Olives are a staple food all over the Middle Eastern world and Claudia has covered a lot of information in her fabulous blogs in the past. (Her links are pasted below.)
So instead I will take you to a little garden in Fethiye where Semra, one of my dear friend’s who has 6 fairly young trees. Now wouldn’t you think that that would mean we could harvest these olives within a day?
Sadly no! Due to our extensively long, hot, dry summer the olives have ripened far earlier than previous years and Semra has needed to pick her olives in mid September. This is way earlier than normal.
This means that instead of picking olives in temperatures of the mid 20s we are having to pick them in the 30s. Each evening we have waited until 6 when the air starts to cool and a gentle breeze rustles the trees. It’s quite hard to cope with otherwise. We are not that young anymore and we are certainly not professional pickers!
At the market from the end of summer onwards, you can find a range of olive rakes to fit on the end of any broom handle you have. Well, if only it were that simple.
As you can imagine, when the rake catches several twigs or branches it comes to a grinding halt. You then tug it a little and the next thing it either flies off the end (not having any way to actually fix it properly to the broomstick) or the broomstick comes away, and the rake end is left stuck high up in the tree.
Both of us were nearing severe concussion by the end. The amount of times this rake came flying off and hitting one of us on the head was ridiculous.
We definitely could have prepared ourselves better. Gloves should have been worn as there are just hundreds of spiders creating webs around the olives where they join the branches and it was not that appealing pulling them off by hand! It seemed as though each olive had its own personal spiderweb.
My hair was full of little furry legged objects and I had several go down my dress. After 3 evenings of picking olives before the sun set, I had dozens of bites all over me. It is certainly not a job I am going to jump at again!
Henrik is currently in Denmark and he sent me a link to a fascinating video which I found very apt considering what we were going through. I have taken some clips here to show you the spider dilemma Greece is currently facing.
It truly is quite incredible isn’t it? I feel quite pathetic complaining about a few hundred spiders when clearly the Greeks has a far larger predicament on their hands.
Spiders aside, there is definitely a really positive side to do any sort of activity with Semra. She always puts on a really good Teatime or what is known in Turkish as Beş Çayı pronounced Besh Chigh.
Here Semra has set it up in the garden. ‘Beş Çayı’ means 5 o’clock tea. (Five Tea) It replaces dinner and gave us the strength to bash those branches and fight those bugs! We had meat filled borek pastries, muhallebeh kadayif and mini lemon cakes with lots of glasses of tea. There were actually an assortment of sesame covered sweet and savoury biscuits too but they missed the photo shoot!
Another day, Şerife a close neighbour and friend (pictured raking the tree in a previous photo) invited us to her house nearby for Beş Çayı and then we walked back to start picking the olives. Beş Çayı I think is actually better than dinner in many instances and comes a close second to the absolutely amazing breakfasts put on in Turkey, called Köy Kahvaltası. If you are ever invited to one, grab the opportunity!
Beş Çayı is always made up of savoury and sweet things and a range of cheeses is often set out as well different types of breads and pastries, such as simits, poğaças and the likes. Several honeys are usually offered too. We had pine, thyme and flower. Beş Çayı caters so well to everyone’s tastes.
And now we have eaten, it’s back to work. Olives are sorted and then washed. The black olives are green olives are separated. The green olives are soaked for a day in water that is changed a few times.
Green olives require more work as they are less ripe and require a different treatment to get out the bitter juices. They can be slit at one end or they can be bashed with a stone. Here, Semra has bought two little machines and the olives are dropped in quite quickly and cut and they drop out the bottom of the cutter. It’s wonderful.
Both green and black olives are then placed into separate 5 litre water containers, or even 1.5 litre plastic bottles and then rock salt is dropped in. It is very important that the salt does not contain iodine otherwise the olives will take on a different flavour.
Some Turks will add Lemon Salt (citric acid) to their green olives to help them retain a bright green colour.
Then the bottles are filled with clean, non – chlorinated water so that all the olives are covered and the lid is tightly screwed on. Should the water not be pure, the olives will not taste good. If in doubt about your tap water, boil up a few litres and let them cool or buy bottled water for the final olive making step. Shake the bottles for the next few days a few times to make sure the salt is properly dissolved and dispersed.
At this point, some people add chillies, garlic, lemon peel (but no juice) or crushed coriander. However, Semra just adds salt and then treats them in small batches when she takes them out of the big jar, adding her personal touches just before they go on the table.
They are stored in the dark for minimum 6 weeks before they will be tasted.
Olives are now hitting the markets here in Finike and we all decided that we would give it a go. So a very casual Beş Çayı was organised and then a few of us stayed on to start cutting up olives. It is certainly a lot more fun to cut the olives with a bunch of friends. It is tiresome work by yourself.
- 1 kg green olives
- 100 g rock salt with no iodine
- Non-chlorinated cold water (boiled and cooled tap water will work) for last step
- Clean the olives, pick out any worm holed ones or soft ones and discard
- Place in a bowl and soak in water for a day
- Rinse and cut a cross through one end of the olive
- Place in a bowl or jar and when all complete cover with tap water
- Leave for 2 days
- Repeat this process twice
- Six days later the olives will have been rinsed three times
- Place in pickling jar, tip in rock salt and cover with good quality water
- Close the lid and leave sitting in a dark place for 6 weeks before tasting.
Once Semra is serving the olives they are placed in a smaller container that will be kept in the fridge. She will add finely sliced lemon and sunflower oil. If olive oil is added, the green olives will go soft.
There is quite a lot more information about olives in Claudia’s fascinating blogs which are listed here.
as well as Know Your Olives!