Monday, October 7, 2013

The Great Caper

freshly picked capers
I don't know why I always seem to be interested in producing the unique. I mean, it's cool to grow tomatoes, lettuce and things that we use every day, but for some reason I am always enthralled with funky things that you don't really need to grow or produce yourself. Learning how-to from top to bottom has always fascinated me. Like the one year I made rose beads from our neighbors rose bushes, then actually made rosaries for all of the women in my family. Or the time I made a turducken from the turkey, duck, and chicken that we had raised that year (you can read about that here.) You get the picture. So, obviously one of the things I really NEEDED in my garden was a caper bush.

Contrary to what you might believe, capers do actually grow on plants. And the really cool thing is that they grow GREAT in San Diego and anyplace with a Mediterranean climate.

Our caper bush. You can see it better if you click on it
This picture is a close-up of one of the spindly branches with a flower bud at the end. The tightly closed flower buds are what you actually pick to cure as capers, though all parts of the caper bush are edible. Once the flowers bloom and fall off, you can harvest the grape-size fruits called caper berries. These are delicious, too, and you cure them the same way you would cure the capers. Caper berries are often served as tapas in Spain and taste similar to capers, but the flavor is milder. Even the leaves can be harvested and cured the same way you cure the buds or the berries and they add a similar delicious and unique flavor to your cuisine.

Many options are available for curing, but the easiest way is just to use salt. Pack the just-picked flower buds with salt in a small jar and let them sit for a few weeks. Wala! You have salt-packed capers. Side note- rinse them well before you throw them in your pasta dish or you'll be sorry! My favorite option, however, is lacto-fermentation and it works well for the berries, the leaves and the capers themselves. Lacto-fermentation is also great for adding beneficial flora to your diet, so you have a good excuse to throw delicious capers and caper berries on everything! Here is an easy recipe:

Capers, caper berries and or caper leaves

Pick all your caper parts and put them in a glass jar. Cover with water and let sit for 5 or 6 days. Rinse and change the water every day, making sure everything is covered with water. This phase stinks! Soaking removes oils from the plant that you don't want to eat, and it's totally normal for it to smell really bad, don't worry. Just keep rinsing and covering with water
After about 5-6 days, it shouldn't really stink any more. Now, mix some clean water (filtered so you don't have chlorine) with salt and pour it over your capers. A good ratio is 1 tablespoon of salt for every cup of water (capers are salty) but this is totally up to you. Make sure that your capers are covered with the brine, and put them in nice spot on the back of your counter top and let them sit for a few more days. Make sure they are covered with either a lid or a clean cloth to keep stuff out. After two or three days, taste them. See what you think. If you want them saltier or more pickle-y, let them sit out for another day or two. Once you like what you taste, store them in the fridge to stop the fermentation process. These will store pretty much forever, but they probably won't last that long.

salt cured capers

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