As we come closer to summer, there’s one distinct bush that often grows in the wild countryside that bursts into a beautiful arrangement of white flowers plummeting a shower of white and purple stems. Gathering capers was and still is one of the particular jaunts of the season for some Gozitans.
The buds of these beautiful flowers are the capers and these are traditionally collected and cured for preservation. Capers can be preserved in salt, vinegar, in brine and in olive oil. The capers are a great savoury addition to many dishes because bring in a particular flavour. As a versatile ingredient, they are a great addition to tomatoes and caponata sauces, fish dishes, salads, dressings and usually they are added to the recipe toward the end of the cooking or preparation process. Capers are found in every Gozitan pantry and used abundantly in the appetizing ‘ħobż biż-żejt’ – the typical Gozitan bread with tomatoes or tomatoes paste drizzled with olive oil.
Picking capers is often a tedious and time-consuming job as the capers need to be picked one-by-one. Some pickers go after the petite buds because the smaller buds are typically associated with a more distinctive taste and others opt for the larger and fleshier buds.
If you’re interested in gathering and curing your own capers here are some tips to follow:
- Do not plunder plants that are clearly within fields or private property. Although the caper plant can be considered as a wild plant, some people tend to these plants in their private fields. As you gather the buds, avoid breaking down the plant.
- Capers are bitter when not cured. They need to be thoroughly cleaned and dried before attempting to preserve them. Once clean, they are soaked in salty water for some days. During this time, the capers need to be rinsed daily.
- If you’re after very salty capers, cure the capers in salt. This is done by storing them under salt for a week or so. If you’re storing them in salt, it’s just a matter of transferring to a clean jar where once again they are thoroughly covered with a layer of salt. Otherwise, rinse the capers, place in a clean jar and cover with olive oil, white vinegar or brine.
Gozo capers can be bought from select gourmet stores and it’s a great souvenir to take back home!