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Garden to table: When life gives you cherries, make olives

In her latest column, Laura Marie Neubert talks on the Kootenay olive

Delicious “Kootenay Olives” made from resilient Staccato cherries are an old-fashioned idea whose time has come.

I happened across a reference to so-called Kootenay Olives in one of the hundreds of vintage Canadian cookbooks that I’ve collected over the years. Culinary history suggests that during the early 1900s’, land-locked Italians living in small Kootenay, British Columbia towns like Trail and Rossland, brined firm cherries in much the same way as they brined olives in their beloved homeland.

Since there were no olive trees in BC, nor were olives shipped in, these resourceful gourmands apparently made do with what was on hand. It makes good sense actually, to brine cherries, because like olives, cherries are drupes — a classification of fruit characterized by thin skin, fleshy body, and a single inner seed. And like olives, cherries are small, firm, and have a sturdy stem that holds fast.

For the past several years I have experimented making Kootenay Olives using various varieties of local cherries, at various stages of ripeness, and at various times during the season. Early on, I locked down a lovely brine recipe, but perfecting the tooth and texture along with the sugar and acid balance, proved elusive.

Recently, while noticing the too-long line-up for the ubiquitous large red-black Okanagan cherries at the Trout Lake Farmers’ Market, I was standing happily across the aisle, filling a large reusable bag to the brim with Klippers Organics’ gorgeous “Staccato” cherries.

I love feasting on plump Okanagan cherries, but they don’t travel well, last for long before turning, and they don’t make good olives. Firm cherries like Rainers work quite well, but Staccatos are ideal — as if they were bred for it.

Most certainly, Staccato cherries were bred for resilience, right here in British Columbia at the Summerland Research and Development Centre. Unlike most varieties of cherries, Staccatos don’t split in the rain, they don’t faint and shrivel in extreme heat and drought, and they travel very well. I am especially grateful that late-season Staccatos come to market at the tail end of traditional cherry season, taking the pressure off my back-to-back line-up of produce waiting to be preserved.

Staccatos are bright red and extraordinarily juicy, and because their pits are comparatively small, they deliver more flesh, pound for pound, than what I’m used to. I left my cloth bag of Staccato cherries in the garage for five days, unrefrigerated, and nary a cherry was blemished, wilty or weepy when I retrieved them. The drupes looked and tasted as gorgeous as the day they were picked.

Cherry prices have more-or-less tripled in just five or six years, and considering the changing climate and increased farm labour costs, the upward trend is likely to continue. Given then, Staccato’s many economic, gastronomic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory virtues, they are my new favourite cherries. With luck I can find a few saplings to add to our tiny home orchard.

To make Kootenay Olives: For each sterile 500 ml jar, use 225 gr firm sweet cherries (stems trimmed to 12 mm), 1 bay leaf, 2 slices fresh ginger, 2 tsp coarse salt, 2 tbsp date molasses (or 1 fresh stevia leaf), 12 each coriander seeds and Szechuan peppercorns, plus an optional 1/8 preserved lemon (flesh and peel).

Fill jars halfway with cherries. Arrange other ingredients decoratively. Add cherries to bottom of jar neck. Fill jars with 50/50 white vinegar and water (boiled, 250 ml per jar), leaving 12 mm headspace. Hot water process lidded jars for 15 minutes*. We let cherry olives age for four to six months in the dark before gifting or enjoying with other mixed olives.

Processing times vary by elevation. Check Canada’s Home Canning Safety Recommendations

Laura Marie Neubert is a West Vancouver-based urban permaculture designer. Follow her on Instagram @upfrontandbeautiful, learn more about permaculture by visiting her Upfront & Beautiful website or email your questions to her here.

For a taste of permaculture, click on the YouTube link below:

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