Monday, June 18, 2012

An unexpected surprise at the Vatican!

MC: It seems that as the days go by the possibilities of topics to blog about are never ending. Trying to sift through the plethora of fascinating topics and thoughts that have gone through my mind has been quite challenging. However, while there is much that could be written about, there was something that grabbed my attention immediately on our most recent excursion. While visiting the Vatican Gardens last Tuesday we had the privilege of observing the many beautiful specimens that graced such a magnificent space. During our walk we happened upon a few plants dangling from a crevice along a brick wall; at first glance we shrugged these plants off as typical weeds but our tour guide informed us that these were capers. Growing up, anytime my mother would make an Italian dish, such as chicken piccata, she would go to the refrigerator and grab a small cylindrical jar and sprinkle a spoonful of green pea-like beads on top; called capers. Fortunately for me I loved them and would always try to grab as many as I could when serving up my plate. Later, during one of my first horticulture classes, I learned that these capers were actually the flower buds of a plant.
The caper plant, Capparis spinosa, is a small perennial bush that is found all throughout the Mediterranean and is particularly popular in Italy. It is believed that this specimen originated in the tropics but its exact location is unknown. As mentioned earlier this plants main claim to fame is of course, their edible flower buds. These flower buds must be picked before bud break, preferably when they are the size of a small pea. The most popular way to consume capers is by pickling them, similar to that of dill pickles. Although the caper is known for its delicious buds, I was taken back when I saw the same caper plant in full bloom in the courtyard of Santa Chiara. The caper boasts a striking flower, which is fairly large for the overall size of the plant. These flowers consist of pure white petals and a rich purple stamen that shoots from the center towards the sky. It is humorous that such a random and seemingly unimportant stop along the tour of the Vatican Gardens would be one of the highlights of my entire day!

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