Sunday, June 5, 2016

Capers Steal the Show

Castiglion Fiorentino (outside Santa Chiara Study Center)

The staples of Italian food are the aromatic and fresh flavors that uniquely combine to create culinary masterpieces.  Even while growing up, my favorite food was Italian, but little did I know that the real thing was so much better. One of my favorite flavors in the typical Italian dish is the caper. We actually had capers one of the first nights we were in Italy in a delicious pairing of spelt and chicken.  When we were taking one of our first walks around Castiglion Fiorentino, Dr. Lombardini pointed out the caper bush to us, which was growing on the side of an old wall.  

Caper plants have many branches with thick and shiny leaves.  The buds are collected before they flower, but the leaves can also be eaten.  The buds are ready to be harvested when they are a dark olive green and about the size of a kernel of corn. Capers are also usually picked by hand because they are too small and delicate to be plucked by machine.  Our tour guide in Arezzo made a joke how maybe the economy wouldn’t be so bad in Greece if they weren’t eating the leaves instead of the delicious buds like the Italians do!  If you do not harvest the bud, it will flower with delicate, cream petals and a purple stamina.  They only last a few hours, and are not a common sight in caper gardens because the caper buds must be harvested before they flower.  To achieve the lemony flavor of the caper, producers usually pickle and salt the caper. 

The caper’s scientific name is Capparis spinosa and is actually found in the wild. It grows in slightly acidic environments, hence the reason it is a pretty common sight to see the bushes growing in the old walls surrounding old Italian towns.  The picture I took of the caper was actually on the wall outside the underground city in Perugia. Capers have been around since ancient times and are able to grow well in the Mediterranean, North Africa, Turkey, the Middle East, parts of Asia, and California.  Coming back to America, I will now never question what those tiny delicious lemon capers are on my smoked salmon bagel.

-Hannah Dressen

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