If you want to harvest and preserve capers yourself, you don’t have to go far. Because the caper shrub (Capparis spinosa) not only thrives in the Mediterranean region, it can also be cultivated in temperate climate. Whether in the conservatory, on the balcony or terrace: The decisive factor is a very warm, full-sun and dry place. What many do not suspect: Capers are not the fruits of the Mediterranean semishrub, but the closed flower buds. After harvesting, they are dried and pickled. Their taste is tangy and slightly spicy, in German cuisine they are a classic ingredient in “Königsberger Klopse”.
When and how to harvest capers correctly?
Special care is required when harvesting capers. The flower buds are picked individually from the bush by hand in spring. The right time is crucial: the buds should still be firm, closed and as small as possible, because then they have a particularly strong aroma. This is usually the case from May onwards. The olive to bluish-green casing should only have small light spots at the tip. The best time to harvest during the day is in the morning hours on a dry day. Directly after harvesting, however, the raw buds are not yet edible: they must first be dried and pickled in salt, vinegar or oil.
Immediately after harvesting, the buds are first dried for at least one day. During this process, the buds lose some of their liquid. In warm regions, drying is usually possible outdoors, however, a shady, dry and airy place is recommended rather than a place in the blazing sun.
Preserving capers in vinegar
In Southern Europe, pickling capers in pickle is very popular; in other countries, vinegar is more common. This involves a process in which the bitter substances are largely broken down, similar to the pickling of olives. Before that, the caper buds should be washed several times in a bowl of fresh water: Put the capers in, wash them thoroughly, and then pour off the water. Then add a tablespoon of salt to a bowl of water and add the buds for ten minutes. Pour off the salt water and let the capers dry on a towel or kitchen paper.
To pickle 250 grams of capers, you will need about 150 milliliters of vinegar, 150 milliliters of water, 1 teaspoon of salt, 2 to 3 peppercorns and 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Put the vinegar, water, salt and peppercorns in a small saucepan and let the mixture boil briefly before pulling it off the heat. Fill the prepared capers into clean, sterilized canning jars and pour the broth over them. Finally, add the olive oil until all the capers are well covered and seal the jars airtight. Let the capers sit in a cool, dark place for about two weeks before using. As long as they are covered with liquid, pickled capers will keep for several months in the refrigerator.
Pickling capers in salt
If you prefer to do without the acetic acid taste, you can also pickle capers in salt only. To do this, put the buds in a clean jar, add sea salt, the salt weight should be about 40 percent of the weight of the capers. Mix capers and sea salt well and flip the jar daily. After about ten days, pour off the resulting liquid and add salt agai; (about 20 percent of the weight of capers. After another ten days including turning the jar, you can drain the capers and dry them on a towel or paper towel. The pickled capers will last for a few months, but they should be watered first before eating.
In the trade you can often find capers classified by size: The smaller, the more aromatic and expensive. “Nonpareilles” are the smallest capers, “Surfines” are medium-sized and “Capucines” and “Capotes” are among the larger capers. In addition to the “true” capers, caper apples or caper berries are also offered. These are the fruits of the caper bush, which are pickled in a similar way to the buds. They can be served as a snack, for example, like olives. For “false” capers, the still closed buds of dandelions, daisies or wild garlic are also often used.
Preparing capers correctly
Capers pickled in brine are appreciated by gourmets for their genuine taste. Before eating or processing them, they should always be soaked or rinsed with water first. If you want to use capers for hot dishes, they should be added only at the end of the cooking time, so that the flavor is not lost by heating. You can usually do without intensive kitchen herbs and other spices, the capers already provide an intense taste experience.