Tuesday, May 18, 2010
This caper plant is growing in a 17-inch diameter terra cotta pot. It's one of my best producing pot-bound plants and it has beautiful pink flowers if I allow it to bloom.
I grew this plant and a few other ones from seeds that I got from a member of the Seed Savers Exchange who lives in Siena, Italy. There is a fair amount of variation in the plants from this seed source and this plant is unusual because it has pink flowers. My other Sienese caper plants are also in large pots but they are in a colder part of the garden and haven't grown as much as this plant yet.
The buds on this plant also produce a fair amount of nectar before they open. The droplets you see on the buds shown below are nectar.
My most productive plants are a Croatian strain from the island of Hvar. These are growing atop a wall that has another wall rising above about a foot behind it. It's a very sunny and protected spot.
The buds on the Hvar capers are larger than the Sienese capers.
These plants don't go fully dormant and the most protected branches start blooming very early. The flowers on the Hvar capers are typically white with purple stamens and have a lovely soft fragrance.
Here's the caper buds that I picked today. These are the Hvar and Sienese buds mixed together.
I netted 1 ounce of buds without the stems.
Today's picking of raw buds are shown above and the buds from last week are shown below floating in the brine that they are curing in. Raw caper buds are bitter and horrible tasting, they must be cured to make them tasty. You can see some spots that are developing on the buds below, that's a good sign, they are rutin crystals that form when mustard oil is released during the curing process.
Here's the method that I've developed for curing capers. I make a brine of 8 ounces filtered water and 1 1/4 ounce kosher salt for 2 to 2 1/2 ounces of buds (that's the most I harvested at one time last year). I keep the capers at 55F for 4 weeks and change the brine weekly. They can also be kept in the refrigerator during the curing process but that will take longer since the colder temperature will slow things down. At the end of the curing period I drain the buds and either pack them in coarse salt or dry them. You can read about my experiments on the post that I updated with each caper harvest last year, although I did get lazy about documenting the details towards the end, but you can still get an idea of what I did. You can find a link to that post on my side bar.
Below are shown some salt packed capers from my harvest last year (I can't believe I made them last this long). They keep for a long time in the refrigerator. I usually rinse the salt off and soak them in fresh water to remove even more salt before using them.
This final photo is of the last of my dried capers from last year. I experimented with sun drying and found that the capers turned brown like the ones below. When I dried them in a warm shaded spot or indoors they stayed greener. Either way, green or brown, they are equally delicious. The dried capers keep well at room temperature. I like to chop the dried ones without rinsing them and incorporate them into dishes to add a salty capery flavor. They are also quite delicious eaten out of hand, although I find them too salty to eat more than a few. Another wonderful way to eat them is deep fried, oh yum.