[Sca-cooks] olive curing

galefridus at optimum.net galefridus at optimum.net
Fri Jan 6 12:25:05 PST 2012

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Smoked olives
(Dom. Galefridus Peregrinus, galefridus at optimum.net)
Olives have been consumed since antiquity throughout their range. Preparing them for eating involves a relatively simple curing and fermentation process, which breaks down or leaches out a number of unpalatable naturally occurring substances. The fermentation also causes some of the distinctive olive flavors to fully develop. Several recipes for their preparation can be found medieval Islamic cookbooks. This particular recipe appears in slightly different forms in two places: al-Baghdadi's Kitab al-Tabikh (Book of Cookery, 13th Century) and Kitab al-Wasf al-At'imah al-Mu'tadah (Book of the Description of Familiar Foods), a 14th century Andalusian expansion and revision of al-Baghdadi. The version used for this preparation is from the Description of Familiar Foods:
"Take olives when fully ripe. If you want, take them black, and if you want, take them green, except that the green are better for smoking. Bruise them and put some salt on them, as much as needed, and turn them over every day until their bitterness goes away. When they throw off liquid, pour it off. When the bitterness has gone from them, spread them out on a woven tray until quite dry. Then pound peeled garlic and cleaned thyme, as much as necessary. Take the quantity of a dirham [3 g] of them, and a piece of walnut with its meat in it, and a dirham of wax, and a piece of cotton immersed in sesame oil, and a piece of date seed. Put these ingredients on a low fire on a stove and seal its door, and put the tray the olives are in on top of it, and cover it with a tray so that it is filled with the scent of this smoke, which does not escape. Then leave it that way for a whole day. Then you return them to a container large enough for them and mix the pounded garlic and thyme with them, and a little crushed walnut meat, and a handful of toasted sesame seeds. Take as much fresh sesame oil as needed and fry it with cumin seeds, and throw them on it and mix them with it. Then take a greased pottery jug and smoke it in that smoke. Put the olives in it and cover the top, and it is put up for [several] days. It is not used until the sharpness of the garlic in it is broken."
Notes on ingredients:

Olives: Medium-large green Seville olives

Salt: Coarse sea salt. But from my reading of a number of original sources, it seems likely that some form of rock salt was probably used.
Thyme: Dried thyme.
Wax: No recipe that specifies wax tells what kind, so I use beeswax.
Sesame oil: From raw, not toasted sesame seeds.
All other ingredients were as described.
Curing: I followed the recipe as written, starting with ten pounds of large green olives and bruising them by placing a quantity between two cutting boards and applying about 200 pounds of pressure. I cured half of the olives in a large unglazed pottery crock at a temperatures varying between 50F and 60F, adding about 1/2 c. sea salt at the beginning of each week and rinsing at the end of each week for five weeks. A friend cured the remaining olives in a large poly bucket using the same procedure. We each stored our olives in strong brine for several weeks until we could meet to complete the process. We also picked through the olives to remove any that appeared to have gone bad.

Smoking: In the absence of a ?woven tray,? I used several bamboo steamer trays to dry and smoke the olives. The smoking mix was as described: a mixture of dried thyme, crushed garlic, and granulated beeswax, together with half a walnut (shell and meat), a date pit, and a cotton pad soaked in sesame oil. I used a commercially available electric smoker. The instructions seem to indicate a full day of smoking; rather than do so over the course of 24 continuous hours, I smoked the olives of the course of 12 hours on each of two days.
Final flavoring and aging: I mixed the cured and smoked olives with the herb and spice mix as described, together with a quantity of raw sesame oil. I greased the unglazed crock that I had used for curing with sesame oil and smoked it for five hours using the same mix that I had used for smoking the olives. I returned the olives to the smoked crock and allowed them to age at a temperature of about 50F. The garlic flavor began to mellow after about three days; after two weeks, it was quite mild. After about six weeks, the flavors of smoke and the spice mix were fully blended with each other.

Future plans: I intend to try one of the other recipes from the corpus of medieval Islamic cookbooks. I would also like to try some other varieties of olives, if I can find them.

Abu al-Khayr al-Shajjar al-Ishbili. (1946). Kitab al-Filaha ou Le Livre de la Culture: notice et extraits traduits par A. Cherbonneau, eclaircissements par Henri Peres. Algiers: Editions Carbonel. In French. An English translation from the French is available at http://filaha.org/khayr_final_translation_revised.html. The first section discusses the cultivation and uses of the olive, and includes two recipes for curing olives.

Bencheroun, M. b. A., ed. (1984). Fadalat al-Khiwan fi Tayyibat al-Ta'am wa-al-Alwan, li-Ibn Razin al-Tujibi. Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami. In Arabic. This collection was compiled by the Andalusian Ibn Razin al-Tujibi in the 13th Century. Section 10 (On Relishes and Pickles), Chapter 2 (On the Making of Olives), pp. 255-256, contains two recipes for curing olives, neither of which have I had opportunity to translate.

Nasrallah, N. (2007). Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens: Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq's Tenth Century Baghdadi Cookbook. Leiden: Brill. Al-Warraq includes an olive recipe (p. 206) that he attributes to the 9th Century Abbasid prince Ibn al-Mahdi.

Rodinson, M., Arberry, A. J., and Perry, C. (2001). Medieval Arab Cookery. Devon, UK: Prospect Books. Both al-Baghdadi and The Description of Familiar Foods are in this excellent collection of essays and translations. Al-Baghdadi's olive recipe is on pp. 79-80 and the Familiar Foods version that I used is on p. 403.

Ingredient list:
10 lb. raw uncured olives
Coarse sea salt
Dried thyme
Crushed walnut meats
Raw sesame oil
Crushed fresh garlic
Toasted sesame seed
Cumin seed, lightly toasted in raw sesame oil

Smoking mix:
Dried thyme
Date pits
Walnut meat in the shell
Crushed fresh garlic
Cotton swab soaked in raw sesame oil
Granulated beeswax

Acknowledgement: A note of thanks to Baroness Jehannine de Flandres for suggesting this project and obtaining the olives; also for her care and feeding of half of the olives during the initial curing process.

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