Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Caper Caper Resumes

Last year I took a break from harvesting capers. The 2012 harvest was generous, coming in at 3.1 pounds of raw caper buds. The 2011 harvest wasn't too shabby either at 2.1 pounds. Salt preserved capers keep extremely well in the refrigerator so when the caper buds starting popping out last year and I still had a dozen jars of capers in the fridge I decided to just let the plants bloom. The plan was to harvest the caper berries instead, but that didn't happen because round about the time they were ready to harvest I was sidetracked by a medical problem and I just couldn't give a you-know-what.

The number of jars of capers is much reduced this year so I decided to replenish the stash. What I wasn't prepared for this year was to start the harvest in April, uh, actually in March. I started keeping detailed records of my harvests in 2010 and that year I harvested the first tiny picking of 3/4 ounce on May 10. In 2011 the harvest started on May 19 with a bit more impressive (hah!) harvest of 1.6 ounces. And in 2012 the harvest started off with 1 ounce collected on May 9. You can see why I don't expect to start harvesting capers in March or April. So I was amazed when I got home from vacation on March 25 this year and spotted buds on the caper bushes that were ready to harvest. Unfortunately I just couldn't get around to harvesting them until April 2 so the plants were already sporting showy blossoms. I plucked off the blossoms and every bud that was about to open and discarded them. Then I harvested 3 ounces of buds. This morning I harvested for the fourth time this month. Here they are...

Fresh caper buds

Here's the crop so far this year, the latest harvest on the left, the two previous combined in the center, and the first harvest on the right.

I've changed the method I use to preserve the capers. In the past I've prepared a brine solution and immersed the capers in it. This year I'm just mixing the fresh capers with plain coarse sea salt. The salt draws moisture out of the capers and creates a brine from their own moisture.

I keep the jars in the refrigerator and give them a shake when I think of it. The first batch may be ready soon, I'll know when they taste good, but I haven't tasted any yet.  When they are tasty I'll drain the brine, give them a rinse, and then repack them with some fresh salt.

These are some of the buds on my unusual Pink Flowering caper. This plant is also unusual because the buds develop a lot of nectar on their surfaces which is clearly visible.

These are buds on one of my Croatian plants. They also develop nectar on the surfaces of the buds but not nearly as much as the buds on the Pink Flowering plant. My fingers are always sticky when I'm finished harvesting capers. The ants collect the nectar, you can see one on the bud near the center of the photo.

These are my Croatian bushes. They are really happy this year, which is a surprise because they got very zinged when we had a few consecutive nights back in December when the temperature dipped into the low 20ºF range. Not only did the plants get frost bitten, but I also didn't get around to pruning them when I should have back in January or February. I finally trimmed out a lot of the dead stems when I harvested the first buds a couple of weeks ago. I'm not sure why it is, but the plants seem to grow back most vigorously after being zinged by a freeze. If I prune out an equivalent amount of growth after a less frosty winter they don't respond as well. I'm still learning the finer points of winter care for these plants...

Here's the Croatian plants again. They are growing atop a wall and the easiest way to harvest the buds from the tops of the plants is to use the ladder, which is staying there for the season, I'm too lazy to schlep it out every time I want to harvest. Maybe I should find a prettier ladder.

Oh well, if the harvest continues as normal I'll only have to look at it until the beginning of August.


  1. It sounds like a lot of work to pick all those capers.

  2. This is very interesting for me, since I have never seen capers on the bush before - only in jars in a shop. It's nice to have something that keeps so well after harvesting too, without having to resort to freezing.

  3. Capers are one of those plants I wish I could grow in our climate. I wonder if they would thrive in pots.

    1. Most of my plants are in pots. They don't get to be as big or productive as the plants grown on the wall, but they do produce a modest harvest of buds. It might be a fun experiment for you to try.

  4. My caper plants were frozen to death 2 years ago because I was too lazy to move them into the house to overwinter.

  5. How do you think they would do in Napa? we get cold but rarely below 28 ish..
    Where do you think i could get seedlings?

    1. They should do great in Napa, the general rule for capers is that they grow where olives grow and I know that olives do just fine in Napa. Morning Sun Herb Farm's website says that they will be in stock June 1. They are in Sunol.

  6. How nice, I'm jealous. I have found memories because I'm from Apulia and my grand father had many bushes on the rocks in his garden. He used to cured them in salt but then when the salt melted was not replaced with new salt. We were just gifted with the precious jars and instructed to shake it from time to time. I don't think my grandpa ever kept them in the fridge but makes sense if you are storing for long times. There are so many recipes that don't taste the same without capers. And people who only tried capers in the store don't have a clue of the smell and flavor of real capers. Too bad my husband doesn't care for them and my children don't even know how they taste. To me a frisella tomatoes, capers and good Extra virgin oil are the image of summer.
    Now I live in NY, no capers and a tiny garden. I'll come back and read more hopefully I'll learn some gardening.



  7. My sea kale sea pods are finally ready for trying out your capering method with — thanks for the info!

  8. Can anyone share a nursery/company that sells young caper bushes in the US?


Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I value your insights and feedback.