My caper plants have been producing prolifically in the hot weather....unlike me, they seem to thrive in it! However, I've been away a bit recently and haven't been picking the buds regularly which means a lot have gone past the bud stage and into flower. The flowers are fragrant and very pretty to look at, delicate and orchid like, but sadly they only last one day. Having said that, if you haven't kept on top of the picking there will be plenty more flowers the next day!
The good news is that once capers flower they go on to make fruit (seed pods), which we know as caper berries. These are a bit slower growing so you have a bigger picking window. Of course, if left on the bush they will eventually grow too big to eat as berries and they are the ones I let mature fully and collect the seeds from....if I can beat the ants to them!
Like olives, the berries need to be brined in order to make them edible. I mix five teaspoons of salt into one cup of water and this seems to work ok. With this batch I am experimenting a little. I was going to add a bit of white wine vinegar but I don't have any so have sloshed in a bit of verjuice instead. I thought about adding some flavouring spices like mustard seeds and peppercorns, and maybe even some garlic, but decided I should do some research first. Has anyone reading this ever done that and how did it go?
I find these screw lid plastic fruit jars good for pickling capers in. Being plastic means there is no corrosion and it is very simple to keep adding capers/berries over a few weeks until the jar is full. The berries need to soak in the brine for at least a week before they are ready and can be left in there for ages....I don't honestly know how long they will last but we are still eating capers and berries from last year with no ill effects!
I guess the question then is, "What on earth do I do with caper berries?"
Well, if you don't like capers, don't bother with the berries, you probably won't like them either. Being a pickle, caper berries are good to serve with rich food because they kind of balance things out with their mouth puckering, saliva inducing pickliness! At a restaurant recently I had them served with panfried duck breast which worked very well.
You can use caper berries where ever you might use capers, either sliced or whole, 'raw' or cooked. They go with salmon, corned meat, chicken, veal, tuna, lamb, mayonnaise, eggs, cheese platters, fried haloumi, pasta, potato salad....the list is endless really. Being bigger, and usually with stems attached, they have more visual impact than capers and look great on the plate. Also, the insides are full of seeds and a cross section looks quite pretty.
This is a new recipe that I just made up for this post and have literally just finished eating! It was delicious, even if I do say so myself, and given there's no one home at the moment to share it with or give an opinion you'll have to take my word for it ;)
Potato, Bean and Salmon Salad with Caper Berries
6-8 Kipfler potatoes, scrubbed and steamed whole until tender but not mushy, then cut into bite sized chunks.
4 handfuls (about 400g) green beans, halved then steamed or boiled until tender
3 spring onions, sliced thinly on diagonal
1/2 a red onion, very finely sliced
2 Lebanese cucumbers, quartered lengthways and then sliced in about 1cm chunks-cucumber is optional but adds a nice crunch and freshness.
30 caper berries- slice about 20 into thirds and leave the remainder whole
A few sprigs of fresh mint - save some to garnish
4 salmon steaks- skin on
Olive oil and salt flakes
4 tablespoon good mayonnaise
3 tablespoon sour cream (if you don't have sour cream you could use Greek yogurt or just use more mayo)
3 teaspoons of grainy mustard (you could use Dijon instead)
Acid to balance - I used verjuice but you could use lemon juice or white wine vinegar- just add a little at a time and keep testing until it tastes good!
Mix all the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Place all other ingredients apart from salmon, oil and salt flakes into a large mixing bowl.
Heat a frying pan. Dry the salmon steaks with paper towel. Rub with olive oil and then press salt flakes into the skin. When pan is hot, pour a little bit of oil into it and place in the salmon, skin side down. Cook for about two or three minutes and then turn and cook the other side for a minute or two. Cook each side for about thirty seconds. (it's hard to be precise about cooking times because the size of the salmon pieces will vary. I like it to be a bit rare in the middle)
Remove the salmon from the pan and gently lift the skin off each piece. Pop the skin back in the pan and on the heat for a bit to get lovely and crispy.
Using your hands, gently flake the salmon into bit sized pieces, following the 'lines' of the fish. Place in the bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Pour over as much dressing as you think you'd like and then gently fold it all together. Taste and season with salt and white pepper. Garnish with the crispy skin, mint leaves and a few extra caper berries if desired.