Mother nature couldn’t have planned it in a better way: not long after the end of the tourist season, it’s time to harvest the olives in Turkey. With life going back to its out-of-season pace, the villagers in Turkey are preparing for Winter. Those preparations consist of getting a wood supply, drying fruits, herbs, and spices, pickling vegetables, and of course, the annual olive harvest. Every spare moment is dedicated to collecting the precious olives from the many olive trees along the Turkish countryside. Depending on their ripeness, the olives will be pressed into olive oil, or naturally pickled to be eaten at any occasion. And you can take our word for it; nothing beats the joy of using olive oil from your olive trees or tasting the olives your trees have produced. Olive harvest season in Turkey stands for precious times, if only because it is a joy to witness to love, time and dedication the Turks put into it. As a tribute, we have made this black & white photo journal.
Deciding when to harvest olives
That’s a tricky one! At least for the unexperienced olive harvester. Any villager in Turkey knows when to pick the olives and what to do with them. Well yes, green and black olives all come from the same tree, only the black ones are ripe while green olives aren’t. Depending on when you pick them, your pickled olives or your olive oil will have a different taste. In any case, once the olive harvesting has started, you will see people under olive trees everywhere you go, even along the streetside. Olives are precious and must not go to waste. It’s beautiful to see how men, women, and even whole families spend the day collecting olives using all kinds of methods. It all ends with the same thing: the olives are either put into big woven bags and taken to the mill to make olive oil. Or they are placed in a smaller basket to be pickled.
The buzz at the mill: from olive to olive oil
Turning your olives into oil after harvesting is a pressing matter. That is why the mills virtually work 24/7 during the olive harvesting season. There’s always a waiting line, but people are patient, which left us with plenty of opportunities to shoot some pictures. Depending on the mill you choose and the time that you show up, they will either weigh your bags of olives, put them aside and give you the equivalent of pressed oil. Or, and this scenario is our preferred one, you get put on the schedule and wait until your olives are turned into oil. Olive oil consumption in Turkey is massive. It is quite common for a small Turkish family to use up to 30 liters of olive oil in a year. Fortunately, the country is also the second largest producer of olive oil in the world.
People from all over come to the mill. Some own an olive grove, others have picked their olives on the side of the street, or have helped out at a neighbors place in exchange for a part of the oil. Waiting for the magic to happen is part of the deal.
Bags full of olives and a long list of names. It is a returning tradition each year. Upon returning home, cars and tractors are filled with empty bags, ready to be used for the next batch and metal or plastic containers of olive oil.
Our favorite pickled olives recipe
To pickle olives is not rocket science. It does help to have good olives, and some love and patience. And a good recipe of course. That’s why we are happy to share ours with you. Now all you need to do is get some olives.
What is the secret of our olive pickling recipe? It is simple, uses only natural ingredients and lets nature do its work.
- Preparing your olives for pickling. The first step is getting rid of the bitterness of green olives. Tip: even black olives can still be a little bitter before pickling, including the black olives in the first step of this recipe, won’t do any harm. Start by washing the olives. After that, simply make a few cuts in each olive (we do 3) and put them in a big bottle, pot or jar. Fill it with water and put something on top of the olives to weigh them down. This will prevent the olives from being in contact with oxygen which makes them go bad. Refresh the water on a daily basis and repeat for about ten days. Don’t get worried if you hear a sizzling noise when opening the bottle or jar; this is perfectly normal. After ten days, taste an olive (or 2) to check if the bitterness has disappeared. If it hasn’t, just keep going a few more days until the bitter taste is gone. Once the olives no longer have a bitter taste, you are ready for the next step.
- Pickling olives. To pickle olives, you need salt water. Count on about 100gr of salt per kilo of olives. Tip: put the olives and the non-salted water in your pot or jar first. After that, pour the water back out into another recipient to add the salt. This way, you’ll know exactly how much water you need to fill the jar, and you won’t waste any salt. Again, use something to weigh the olives down to prevent contact with oxygen. Leave the olives untouched for a month in a dark spot.
- Enjoy your home pickled olives. After a month, your olives are ready for consumption. At this point, you can leave them in the salted water (which will make the olives saltier as time passes) or you can keep them in oil. Use cheap oil and make sure the olives are completely covered. To make your olives even tastier, add some garlic, lemon, red peppers or green herbs; this always looks great!
- Use the oil for cooking. If you are transferring your pickled olives to keep them in (herbal) oil, don’t throw away the oil as you eat the olives, use it for cooking instead.
This easy recipe for pickled olives at home is fail-proof. You won’t just be enjoying delicious home pickled olives; you will also benefit from the numerous health benefits of olives.
Visiting Turkey during olive harvest season
There are many good reasons to visit Turkey during the olive harvesting season. For one: you will be traveling out of season, enjoying the experience of authentic Turkey, stripped from its seasonal entertainment. Bear in mind that many hotels and other accommodations are closed this time of the year. If you are looking for charming places to stay that are open from November until January, we can recommend some places in the Fethiye area, where these pictures were taken. Have a look at Olive Garden in Kabak, Yörük Evi and Faralya Botanica in Faralya, or Yacht Boheme Hotel in Fethiye.
The nearest airport is Dalaman which has easy connections with Istanbul airports if required. You’ll find cheap flight options here. Or you can use the search widget on the side to quickly find the most affordable and best flights available.
And if all this talk about olives has made you hungry, why not start with a good cookbook? These are our favorite picks!