Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Of Capers, Caper-Berries and the Salty Sea

Capers. The delightfully salty little cousins of the olive, at least I've always thought of them that way. I'd heard they were unopened flower buds, but what about the caper-berry, darling of the martini craze from a few years back? The caper and the caper-berry are not the same thing but they come from the same plant. When I came to Greece for the first time I found out the real deal:

Here is the caper plant, itself, a rugged coastal Mediterranean plant, it seems to thrive on sea air alone, growing through cracks in rocky cliffs along the shore. The disk-shaped leaves are succulent, juicy and are still used in cooking by the very few older folks who still remember how to cook "horta", the wild-growing greens of Greece. I'll try out a recipe in my Greek cookbook as soon as I translate the thing, gimme a week or two.

The buds start coming up in early summer and flower throughout the month of July (at least here in Pelion, Greece). Here you see a branch with a tiny, non-pareil caper at the tip, a couple large ones further up and a rather spent flower. As I said before, the caper is the flower bud but the caper-berry is actually formed after the flower dies (see photo at top). It is the seed sack that,when saved from the martini glass, grows to the size of a small pear and bursts open to shower the rocks with seeds for next year's capers.


Blogger Figs Olives Wine said...

I had no idea that you could eat caper leaves or that they were included under the umbrella of horta! I can't wait to hear what they're like! I do get such a thrill when I see capers growing wild though - it seems so exotic, and they are beautiful, stark plants. Fabulous post. I hope you're having a great time.

4:24 PM  
Blogger Cherry said...

OH how my mouth waters for the salty, briny bite.

I hear they are pretty easy to cure yourself. Have you tried?

8:46 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I love the way a caper blossom looks when it first opens, like a pastel firework. I didn't know one could eat caper leaves either, so now I'm incredibly curious.

Thanks for the post, even while on vacation, nonetheless!

9:31 PM  
Blogger Beenzzz said...

I feel the same way Cherry does about capers. The flavor is so wonderful!

1:40 AM  
Blogger rowena said...

I've been waiting for this! So glad that you're posting while on holiday -- even if I don't think anything could outdo my favorite sea urchin post that you did last year, this ranks a close second!

Look forward to what you're gonna make with it. :-)

P.S. A lady was picking wild thyme on a recent hike above Lenno. I love it when fellow hikers share their knowledge!

8:33 AM  
Blogger Susan said...

I'm interested to hear what the greens taste like. I have bought amaranth (another edible leaf) at the farmers' market from a farmer who is a native Greek. He told me to saute the amaranth in olive oil and squeeze fresh lemon juice on it. I'm addicted! I wonder if these leaves will be similar.

1:09 AM  
Blogger hellomelissa said...

makes me go want to eat a jar of capers! we ate loads of them in spain.... they came with every meal.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Figs, I found one recipe for purslane and caper leaves preserved in salt, which I have made and will post on soon. Only problem is that they say you must wait 8 months (!) to eat them. So I'll let you know how tasty the cape leaves are in April.

Hi Cherry, Christina and Beenzzz, I put one lonely caper in with my salt-cured caper leaves. My mothr-in-law loves the flowers sooo much that she thinks the capers,themselves are a waste of beauty. I'll post on the flowers next so you can see how gorgeous they are.

Hi Rowena, We haven't been sea urchin hunting yet...
I didn't know about wild thyme in Italy! That's another good thing to add to wild mushrooms and chestnuts.

Hi Susan, I LOVE Amarath! If ou bought it from a Greek guy, it's probably what's known as vlita here. Here's a simple Greek recipe for it:

Hi Melissa, Yeah! Capers are a great memory of mine from Spain too! What part did you stay in? I was in Barcelona for a year.

4:28 PM  
Blogger MV said...

i live in crete and have recently posted some photos of vlita and stifno in our garden - i would love to serve you my pie made from vlita - we cook it on a weekly basis, and have frozen a few pies for winter.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi MV, I had a look at your vlita pie recipe. So delicious. We've just got back from Greece and I have to wait another year for more.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Maddy said...

Ah caper plants...They look so pretty, but they have these nasty hook-shaped thorns. Before I realized this, I sat smack down in the middle of one and got a nasty surprise!

Horta are so delicious. I'm not sure if I've ever had it with caper leaves though. Where in Greece were you staying?

8:05 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Maddy, Yeah, I had to traipse around these bushes really carefully, they protect themselves well enough. We have a place in Pelion just across from the island of Skiathos.

4:53 PM  

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