We live in a lovely inner Melbourne suburb with lots of old neighbours who have lived in their houses for 50+ years. A lot of them are Italian and Greek and have the best stories to tell about when they came to Australia as young brides. And it’s quite other-worldly some days as I sit on my front porch with my crochet and elevenses and watch lovely nanna’s in aprons shuffle to each others houses, usually with baskets of back yard grown produce. I could be anywhere in the world, in any decade. It makes me feel light and joyful, it’s a wonderful feeling.
A walk down any bluestone lane will give easy access to fruit trees spilling over fences, laden with freijoa, lemons, figs and olives. Everyone has a veggie patch and I’ve even had potatoes dug up and handed over for dinner.
And the latest gift was a basket full of freshly picked olives.
Now, I’ve eaten my body weight in olives, I love them, but I’ve never been part of the olive’s journey from tree to marinated glory ready to eat. Turns out it’s quite the palaver!
What’s a girl to do? Well she immediately runs to the her kitchen guardian angels – Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion and Maggie Beer’s Maggie’s Harvest, of course. And a bit of Google for good measure.
I was a little overwhelmed, especially when Maggie herself says it’s laborious and messy and after 20 years of pickling olives she still has good years and bad.
The first step was to soak the olives in a bucket of water for 40 days. FORTY DAYS! Changing the water every second day. I did this. Then a couple of days buried in rock salt. The kitchen then morphed into a science lab for a day as I sterilized jars and made a brine solution. They are now stored in my pantry, waiting for another 45 days before I know if it was all worth it or not.
I can’t wait! Imagine, 40 days in a bucket … who was the first person to realise this was what the olive needed before you could eat them? It was amazing to watch them change from bright perky freshly picked fruit to bronzed softened and smelling like olives from a shop.
It saddens me to know I’m slowly losing my lovely old neighbours. I wonder what’s happening to the old veggie gardens. I’m glad I’ve had the past 11 years getting to know them and learning some old ways.
And now I can say I’ve pickled olives!