Perhaps not everyone knows that...
The caper (Capparis spinosa L.) is a characteristic plant of the Mediterranean flora and typically grows on old walls, in the cracks of rocks and on stony ground, particularly in seaside habitats. It has a woody stem base with herbaceous branches growing off the top.
Its height can vary from 30 cm to 50 cm; it has succulent, oval-shaped dark green leaves and strikingly beautiful pinky white flowers with delicate purple hues. Its fruit is actually a berry packed with black seeds.
The plant begins to flower between late May and early September, which is when the unopened flower buds are harvested. The buds have to be picked as early as possible and before they blossom: they are small, firm and green and taste very strong. The farmers have to work on the same plant every 8 to 10 days, depending on the seasonal trend, and harvest the capers by hand. This is a painstaking task as they need to bend down low over the plant in conditions of intense heat.
Pantelleria capers are preserved in salt and are used in countless ways to make first and second courses, sauces and condiments. Cooking with capers is quite straightforward: all you have to do is take the required quantity, rinse them under running water to wash off the curing salt, if you wish to reduce the saltiness even more you can let them soak in water until the taste suits the dish you are making, after which they are ready to use.
If the capers you bought were packaged in a bag, you should transfer them to a glass jar and seal it with a screw-top lid. This will prevent moisture loss and stop them from drying out. Preserved in this way, capers can actually last for years and still retain their excellent organoleptic properties.
Always avoid buying capers preserved in vinegar or vinegar-based brine as the ideal and best caper preserver is salt, which keeps the properties of the caper unchanged over time. If a more aggressive preserver such as vinegar was chosen, there must surely be a reason for it, don’t you think?Odd facts
The inhabitants of Pantelleria use an odd method to boost caper cultivation, which consists of “shooting” caper seeds with a blowpipe into the crevices of walls or between the tiles of fully-exposed roofs.