Caper vines grow wild throughout most of the Mediterranean. If you have ever looked up to notice a round-leafed vine tumbling down from an impossibly tiny crack between the stones of a building, there is a fair chance that it’s actually a caper bush (Capperis spinosa) that you’ve been admiring. The capers themselves are the flower buds of the vine, before they have opened into bloom. Elongated and larger caper-berries on the other hand are what becomes of the flower after it has died – so either way, find a caper bush, readily identifiable by the purple and white flowers themselves, and get picking – make sure to wear a pair of gardening gloves though as the vines are very spiky!
Capers can’t be eaten raw as they are full of mustard oil, which has a bitter, astringent flavour. They are made palatable by soaking in water for anywhere between 3-6 days, and then pickled in vinegar or packed under salt in order to preserve. The following instructions are for vinegar pickling… I like this better as typically I am not organised enough to remember to pre-soak salted capers prior to cooking with them! If you are, and would prefer to pack in salt, omit the vinegar and store the capers (post-soaking procedure) in a jar between layers of sea salt.
(Makes a small jar)
- 125g freshly foraged capers
- ½ cup of white wine or sherry vinegar
- ½ cup of water
- 1 tablespoon of sea salt
You’ll also need, some gardening gloves, a pair of scissors, and a small glass jar.
First, find a caper bush to pilfer – preferably one growing at ground level, so that ladder-balancing is not required! Using a pair of scissors, snip the small buds off the bush into a sieve or colander, avoiding any larger ones that have begun to open, or look like they may be about to.
Back at home, sort through the capers, discarding any leaves, grit or other debris that might be mixed in, then cover in water and leave to soak for three days.
After three days, taste one of the capers, if it is still unbearably bitter, continue to soak for up to a further two days. Make sure to change the soaking water once every day – the water you discard will contain the bitterness drawn from the capers.
When ready to bottle, sterilise a jar by gently boiling this (along with its lid) in a large pot of water for 10 minutes. Remove the jar and lid using a pair of tongs to a clean tea towel.
Next, prepare a brine for the capers by mixing together the vinegar, water, and salt. Drain the capers from their soaking water (discarding this), then add them to the brine. Stir to combine, then pour capers and brine into the sterilised jar, making sure that the brine completely covers the capers. Seal with the lid, and store for at least 3 days before using. If, after three days, the taste is still a little strong for your liking, leave the jar another week, and try again. The flavours should have mellowed sufficiently after this time and the capers will be ready to eat.
Once opened, the jar should be stored in the fridge, and capers consumed within one month.