Olives in Mallorca. | CURRO VIERA


Nearly every ex-pat who settles on the island, scribbles the same two items at the top of their wish list. Number one, without fail, is usually ‘the must have’ lemon tree in the garden. Number two is a Mediterranean olive tree. Most people’s idea of a perfect olive tree embraces that iconic image of a gnarled, self-sculptured trunk, usually at least one hundred years old, bearing swollen fruit from a ballet of rustic, intertwined branches. However, those traditional, well established olive trees usually cost a small fortune, when in reality, most people simply want a Mediterranean symbol - a prized, ornamental feature in a domestic, landscaped garden, irrespective of the olives themselves, as, unlike Mallorcans, most ex-pats when they first arrive, don’t have a clue as to what to do with the olives once they have them!

20 years ago, we built our first finca in the countryside just outside Caimari. We wanted two olive trees, standing sentry, at the entrance to our traditional stone-built house, and asked a local supplier for one bearing black olives and the other producing the green variety. That was the moment we were informed, with a hint of disbelief at our ignorance, that all olives, on all trees, are green before ripening to black, which to us was groundbreaking news. Hello! Who knew?

We chose our trees from a cultivated variety as we rather fancied the idea of olives we could eat, rather than wild olives which are decorative, yet small and inedible. Olives themselves, whatever colour, plucked from the branch, are bitter to the taste due to ‘glucosides’ which are present when the fruit is first picked, so there is a formatted process to follow in order to make any harvest edible. All involve an initial brining in saline solution. Ancient Greeks used to strap wicker baskets filled with olives to their boats and let the sea water naturally cure them of their inherent bitterness. How on Earth did those Greeks know that soaking olives in salt water would eventually make them edible? But they did! And it does! The longer you soak them in brine the milder those olives become.

Mallorcans favour a traditional, bitter olive, and utilise their own speedy method of cracking the olives before soaking in salt for a minimal period, thus hurrying along the curing process. The result is a rather salty and sharply bitter tasting olive – an acquired taste which the locals have grown to adore. My own personal preference is for a softer, more palatable olive, which is achieved by harnessing a greater patience of time.

Over the years I have followed many methods, and here is what I consider to be one of the best. As I now know olives start out green before ripening to black, I like to use both colours. But keep them separate and do not mix at the initial ‘salting’ stage.

First, soak the olives in water. I use recycled five-litre plastic water bottles. Fill the empty bottles to the brim with olives, then completely fill the bottles with water. The olives must be totally submerged, so fill a small plastic bag with water and plug the neck, which dunks the olives under the H2O. Scum will naturally appear, so changing the water in the bottles daily is essential. Black olives need four day’s soaking while green olives need six days.

Now for the saline solution: Mallorcans make a REALLY salty mixture. I prefer the ratio of 1/3 cup table salt dissolved to each litre of water used. Dissolve the salt in water over low heat. Cool. Discard water in your olive containers then re-fill bottles with the saline solution to completely cover the olives. Fill bottles to the absolute limit. Olives float, so top up the bottles with olive oil. Filling that small gap in the neck right to the rim creates a sterile seal. Screw the caps tightly and store in a cool, dark place for up to six months. The longer you wait the better, but you can actually start using the salted olives after two months. I like to wait for at least four. But before you eat them, it’s always best to marinade the olives first.

Marination - strain the olives and now marry together the green and black (both will look slightly bleached). Fill large sterilized glass jars with chosen olives. Do not use plastic! Add peeled garlic cloves, lemon wedges, sprigs of dill or rosemary and whole dried chillies (to your own taste). Fill jars to the brim with olive oil. Seal with tight lids, then leave for at least two weeks, stored in a cool, dark place. Give it a try – they are truly scrumptious!

With olives as the chosen theme, this weekend showcased the annual olive fair in Caimari, where everything ‘olive’ was truly celebrated, from the olives themselves to tapenades and spreads, to soaps and breads, to candles and olive wood creations. Naturally, the traditional oil was also flowing, and the taste of freshly baked bread drenched with golden oil is an undeniable addiction and a great accompaniment to any Mediterranean styled meal.

Anoint your salads. Rub it on dry skin! That might sound like an extravagant waste, but olive oil is as good for you on the outside as it is on the inside. Give it a try. Go team olive!