Following our tradition, I substituted fennel for the celery called for in the original recipe. I made it last year for the first time, and I loved both the spicy olives as well as the fragrant preserved lemon pieces that are a great addition to all kinds of winter salads.
For 1 gallon
Salt , 1 egg
3 1/2 pounds fresh green olives, washed
3 lemons, scrubbed and cut into quarters
6-8 stalks wild fennel, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 handful fresh or dried hot chili peppers, or less, to taste
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup fresh lemon juice
MAKE THE BRINE: Add about 2/3 cup salt to 2 quarts water, mixing to dissolve. Place the egg in the brine. If it floats, the water is salty enough for curing; if the egg sinks, remove it, add more salt and stir to dissolve. Add the egg and if it does not float, repeat the process adding a little more salt until the egg floats to the surface. Remove the egg.
Place a third of the olives in a gallon jar with a wide mouth and a tight lid. Add roughly a third of the lemon pieces, a third of the fennel, and a third of the chili peppers. Repeat twice with remaining ingredients, pressing down to pack the layers tightly into the jar. Top off with a layer of fennel pieces.
Pour the brine into the jar until it comes halfway up. Add the vinegar and lemon juice. If needed, pour in more brine until the jar is almost full. Gently pour a thin layer of oil over surface. If you like, add a piece of parchment paper, adding a few fennel sprigs, to make sure that the olives are submerged in the brine. Close the jar and store at cool room temperature for at least six months. Screw the top firmly and do not boil or vacuum-seal the jar as you would if you were canning. A little bit of air is necessary to cure the olives safely. It may leak slightly from the top as the mixture ferments, so store on a tray.
Refrigerate after opening. The olives become quite strong-tasting as they sit, so I prefer to drain the brine and pour in olive oil to cover.
NOTE: Top layer of vegetables may turn black during curing. Discard blackened bits, but remainder is fine to eat. If contents become moldy, discard them.