You may have guessed by now that my family uses a lot of jars. It’s true. There have been times, when groceries were low, when jars were the only thing you could find in our fridge. Sauce, pickles, green tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, olives—they were all staples, crowding the top shelf behind cloudy glass.
The first thing we’d do when our parents left my brother Joey and me home alone was head for those jars. Don’t ask why. It’s not like we weren’t allowed to eat from them when they were home. Maybe there was something about getting them all out at once, downing pickles without constraint, chasing them with shots of giardiniera, cramming forkfuls of pickled green tomatoes before the sound of the garage door ripped through our joy. It was all very exhilarating. This was our idea of misbehaving.
There was one jar I’d never touch during our refrigerator renegades: My parents’ Sicilian green olives. Despite a full-on obsession with olives, I ignored these mossy green orbs completely. They were the bitter, gross things adults ate. I wanted olives from a can. The black shiny pitted guys that I’d stick on my fingertips like puppets and make dance around the kitchen table. I couldn’t imagine wasting stomach space on those cracked green monstrosities when there were canned olives to be had.
Then, at some point around middle school, I changed my mind. It was right around the time I discovered the joys of salted sardines. My parents make a salad with these olives, onions, and sardines that stinks like a salty fishy vinegary mess—offensive and glorious. It was the nucleus of our Sunday night lunches, and the thing that finally got me to appreciate their olives. But I hadn’t had the olives, or thought about them, in a good ten years.
Not until my mom called last week with some news: “Your dad just brought home sixteen pounds of olives.”
“He bought a whole case. Straight from the tree! He’s going to cure them, like we used to. Don’t worry—I’ll take pictures. You can put them on your blog!”
That’s right: my 63-year-old mother, who didn’t know what a blog was until I told her about mine, is now brainstorming content for me. Bless her. But her enthusiasm got me excited to cure my own, so I snagged a pound from their stash. Now I just need Joey to visit from Rhode Island so we can raid the fridge, eating from every jar, like real grown-ups.
Cracked Sicilian Olives
1 pound fresh green olives (in season around September, October, and November)
Approximately 2 gallons spring or mineral water
6 tablespoons salt
1. Crack each olive, but not too hard. Just give them a moderate thwack with a brick or meat tenderizer. Tuck each one into a dishtowel when cracking to keep the juices (olive oil?!) from splattering.
2. Submerge the cracked olives in spring or mineral water, cover, and set aside. The only real work required now is in changing the water twice a day until the bitterness is gone. Three days of water-changing should do it if you like them pretty bitter. I soaked mine for six days and they still have some bite. Taste a little piece each time you change the water. When you like it, they’re done.The secret to keeping them from turning brown, according to my mom, is soaking them in spring or mineral water. Whatever is in our tap water (too much chlorine?) just doesn’t sit well with these olives. They’ll still get dark around the edges where they cracked, but most of the olive will stay green in mineral or spring water.
3. At this point, you can find a zillion recipes online for seasoning the olives, but we keep it simple, even at this stage. When you’ve removed enough bitterness, put the olives in mason jars with more spring or mineral water and two tablespoons of salt. Done. You can even reuse the last batch of water they were soaking in to make the brine. Season the olives when you’re ready to eat. Mix them with olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, and thinly sliced red onions. Then call me over. I’ll bring the bread and sardines.