Capers

Caper plant

One of our plants, growing at the bottom of a terrace wall.

Been getting far too excited by our caper plants. Last year we knew we had maybe two or three plants on the finca, and I was able to collect just a few flower buds and have a go at curing them in salt (I found this really helpful blog post that gives a method for curing). The results were not great – I think largely because I didn’t have enough capers and they dried out in the salt.

This year, perhaps in part due to the fact that we’ve not been spraying with any herbicides or fungicides (and it was apparent that the previous owner of the finca did spray under the trees as seems to be the norm here), and perhaps in part due to really good spring weather (not too cold, plenty of rain) last week I counted no less than sixteen caper plants dotted around, with many of them a good size. As our finca is named after the capers that grow here (Tàperes being the Catalan word for capers), I am taking this as a very good sign, not only that we’ll have a crop of our own capers (which I love), but also that our stewardship of this land is already having a positive effect.

Caper flower

The caper flowers are short-lived and really beautiful, with delicate purple coloured stamens. You can also see the curved spines in this photo.

I’ve done two modest harvests of the flower buds so far this season, and a quick look round earlier this morning suggested that a third is imminent. I collect the buds in small bowl, aiming for one or two good handfuls of buds as a minimum. The plant (Capparis spinosa – the name is a clue) has lots of small backward pointing spines on the stems so you need to be careful whilst collecting the buds to avoid getting caught.

Capers in the jar

Capers in the jar, packed in coarse sea salt, just beginning their cure.

Back at the house I put a thin layer of coarse sea salt in the bottom of a jar and then a layer of caper buds, more salt on top of, more capers, and so on until all your capers are in the jar and covered in salt. Anita Iaconangelo advises allowing airflow over the open caper jar, but covering loosely with paper, netting or similar to keep the bugs out. After a week or so, maybe longer depending on the size of the buds, they should be ready. You can put the lid on and they’ll keep for ages. The smell from the jar is indescribable, and they have so much flavour, much more tasty than any commercially cured capers I’ve bought. They really add life to a pasta sauce!

I have some seeds and of course the plants here will produce seeds as I’m not picking all the flower buds, so I’m planning to have a go at growing some more plants later this year, although they are notoriously tricky to grow from seed. This blog post from Michelle Hamer look particularly useful. who knows, perhaps next year we’ll have forty or fifty plants and then we’ll be able to think about making our cured capers available to Terra CSA cropsharers.

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