Some of the most delicious olives I have ever tasted were the ones foraged from the grounds of a friend’s house near Vence in the south of France. The huge old tree had obviously produced a massive crop, and when I visited in spring the ground was littered with the tiny fruit, shrivelled by the winter but still moist, glistening black in the cool sunshine. This wasn’t the time of year for olive collecting, and I thought strictly speaking one should pick them at the prime harvesting moment rather than scavenge for scraps that had been lying on the ground for months. But they looked so good – and what did I have to lose? It just might work! I decided to give it a try.
They were, of course, inedibly bitter just as they were. I decided to ignore their pre-dried state and simply follow the process as if brining freshly picked olives. For the first two weeks, I soaked them in plain water that I changed every day. This was effective in removing the bitterness, and I even worried that I had gone too far and removed too much. But of course, part of the secret of any great olive is salt, so for another two weeks I kept them under salted water in the fridge. When I drained and rinsed them I had the most perfect olives: a pure hit of savoury salty umami, with a slightly chewy skin, but soft enough flesh to dissolve on the tongue. Now my only worry is whether I’ll manage to meet a set of such unlikely, unpredictable and serendipitous factors all together in one place ever again.