Excerpt from Valley 101: The Great Big Book of Life, a collection of Clay Thompson’s columns for The Arizona Republic. (Originally published January 6, 2002.)
Q: Being Canadian and never having seen real olive trees, I am delighted to find one on my daughter’s property in Paradise Valley. What do you do with them? I have visions of dancing and crushing them beneath our callused Canadian feet for the first press of a famous new olive oil.
A: One day last winter I wrote something mildly snarky about winter visitors and got calls and letters from grouchy snowbirds for days afterward. With that in mind, we shall take up today’s question without any such reflections.
However, it does behoove me to note that you don’t get oil out of olives by dancing on them. Maybe you were thinking of grapes. You get oil out of olives by squeezing them in some kind of a press. This is a long, complicated process. In fact, almost anything concerning olives seems to involve a long, complicated process.
You would have to really want olives to deal with them yourself instead of just hopping down to the supermarket and buying some. I asked the extremely helpful staff at the extremely helpful Cooperative Extension Agency about this, and they sent me eight pages of instructions on curing olives. Of course, that’s far too much to print here, but let me just say this: lye. The problem with olives is they are full of very bitter glucosides that have to be leached out to make them edible.
There are several ways of curing olives, but many of them involve soaking the fruit in lye or brine for several days. In some cases you can crack the olives with a rolling pin and then soak them in cold water for 25 days, stirring frequently. It sounds like a pretty tedious process, but if you really want to try it, call the Extension Service and ask them for the directions.
If you don’t want to go to all the work, consider this: I know a guy who shoots olives at pigeons with a slingshot. That might be fun.