I have lived in my neighborhood for four years and (I'm ashamed to say) really haven't taken the time to get to know my neighbors. Last month one neighbor, Izabel, came over and asked if I was going to use the olives that were ripe on my olive trees. All I ever do with my olives is rake them up off the ground after they fall and complain about the mess they make on the concrete. She said her husband loves olives and she would like to try curing them. I saw an opportunity to not have olive stains all over my concrete this year and said, "They're yours!"
We got our buckets and started picking. I was surprised at the mountain of olives my two small trees produced. The next day I went over to Izabel's home to learn her method of curing. But, more importantly, I learned about Izabel.
Izabel and her husband, Paul, lived in Lebanon for most of their lives. There they owned a button-making factory and five retail button stores. They would import raw materials from Europe, and export goods to many of the Arab countries, and were quite successful. Unfortunately, in 1974 a civil war broke out in Lebanon. They tried to ride out the war, but after ten years of living in fear and uncertainty they fled their country. They brought their four children, and only what they could carry on their back, to the United States and started a new life.
Curing olives was a new adventure for Izabel, as well as for me, but she knew people who knew how to do it and wasn't afraid to try. She patiently walked me through the process she learned from her friends and answered all my stupid questions with grace. She had me come over each time she did something new to the olives so I could take pictures. About three weeks into it she said the olives she used from my tree really weren't big enough to go to all this trouble. They should have been more meaty to make it worthwhile. Ah! Live and learn.
Still, the whole experience was priceless to me, but not only because I learned how to cure olives. It was priceless because I got to know Izabel, a delightfully talented and artistic woman filled with wisdom, compassion and a rich life story. Getting to know her made me realize how important it is to connect with the people with whom we share this world. If she hadn’t come across the street and asked if I had plans for my olives, I probably would have never heard her interesting life story, seen her beautiful art, or eaten the delicious fruits of her garden. Those are the things that are priceless… that, along with Izabel.
Izabel's olives were very tasty little morsels, but they were small. My project over the next year (along with getting to know more neighbors) is to learn what kind of soil amendments will help plump up next years olive crop. Then we can try it again.
OLIVES BY IZABEL
Place olives in large plastic tubs and wash under warm water for several minutes to remove all the dust and dirt. It isn't necessary to remove the leaves, as they can add flavor to the final product. Spread olives in a single layer on sheets of paper towels on top of newspaper. Let olives dry for about one week, or until they are wrinkly and shriveled. Poke each olive with a fork to puncture the skin. For every six pounds of olives, add 2 pounds of coarse sea salt and toss the olives in the salt to mix them together( toss like you would if you were winnowing wheat). Toss the olives every day. After 3-4 days rinse one of the olives off and taste it. When you can taste the salt inside the olive after rinsing it off you are ready for the next step.
Place the salted olives in a colander to drain for 2-4 days. Liquid should slowly drip out of the olives. Wash again in hot water to rinse off excess salt after several days. Add 3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar and 3 Tbsp. olive oil and toss. Place in zip-lock freezer bags and place in the freezer. Take them out of the freezer as needed and thaw. Toss them with a little more olive oil. Enjoy.