Two cures for olives
Q: I see my greengrocer has been stocking boxes of olives. I've always been tempted to cure my own, but I know it is a long process. How does one go about it? - Brian Scott
A: There are numerous ways of preparing olives for the table. Some experts will tell you it is imperative to make a cut into the olive, right down to the pip, before brining them. Others say this is a complete waste of time. Some recipes call for caustic soda; the chemical better known for its ability to clean drains is used to leach out the bitter oleuropein and helps to retain the colour of the olive.
Given all the differences of opinion, I turned to an old trusted guide to food preservation, published by the homemaking division of the Department of Education and Culture. Full of sound advice, it dates back to the 1980s. There are two recipes - one for green olives and another for ripe olives. Many believe green olives are a different variety to black one. Not so: all olives are green and ripen to a deep red/burgundy before turning black. Making olives edible is a simple but lengthy procedure.
Green olives: cover them with a solution of 60g caustic soda per 5l of water. Leave for 12-24 hours, depending on size. Drain and wash thoroughly in fresh water, changing the water every day for two days. Then place the olives for one month in a solution of 500g of salt per 5l of water and cover and store in a cool place. Drain and pack into sterilised jars and fill with a brine solution of 350g salt per 5l of water or cover with or a mixture of brine and vinegar.
Black olives: Fill a 20l bucket to ¾ with olives. Mix 20l of water with 1kg of salt. Stir until dissolved and pour over the olives - right to the brim until it starts overflowing. Cover with a lid and store in a cool place for about 6-12 months. The more bitter you like your olives the shorter the soaking period. Don't remove the thick white crust that forms on top. After brining, soak the olives in fresh water for 2-3 days. Rinse again and pack into sterilised jars with a brine made with 20g salt for every litre of water, or cover with olive oil and dried herbs.
UP IN SMOKE
Q: I have your book, Tastes, thoughts on South African cuisine, which I love browsing for ideas. I have a query about smoking.
In a number of your recipes, for example ostrich fillet or Norwegian salmon, bluegum and paperbark are used in the smoking. I heard that pine has poisonous resins and that one should only use oak shavings and never make your own or use sawdust/wood shavings that may have been treated. - Margie Smith, Stilbaai
A: The recipe to which you refer is one from Garth Shnier then the executive chef at The Michelangelo Hotel, now at The Sandton Sun. He was using a special Australian blend of bluegum and paperbark for the smoking of food - not something you will find readily in SA.
When it comes to smoking you correctly state that not just any wood shavings can be used in smoking as they can be toxic. Rather stick to the commercial range of smoker dust ( in different flavours) packed by Cadac, or the smoker chips packed by Weber