21 Aug 2014

Edible Garden: Nasturtium capers



As we're bang in the middle of the preserving season, jars and bottles are easily bought (if you haven't been carefully storing recycled jars all year), so it's apt timing to think of how summer flavours can be saved for the winter months. Leaving aside the hedgerow harvests for a moment (elderberries, blackberries, bullaces /sloes and rose hips seen on a recent walk), I've been tackling garden produce.

Nasturtium flowers (Tropaeolum) are still growing yet this is the time that lots of fruit (aka seedpods) are dropping into the soil ready to sprout into new plants next year. There's only so many nasturtium seedlings that a garden needs so I've been picking off a few pods before they can fall, destined for the kitchen to be transformed into Tropa-capers (rather than proper capers).

True capers are the flower buds of the caper shrub (Capparis spinosa) and, once pickled, are a popular ingredient in Italian cooking, especially in pizzas, salads and pasta sauces.  Here in the UK, capers are traditionally used to make Tartare Sauce, among other things, which is commonly eaten as a garnish for fish and is particularly nice with salmon. (Although watercress sauce is even better.  But I digress.) Capers are relatively expensive to buy but I read that nasturtium seedpods develop a very similar taste and texture to capers when pickled.

And so I embarked on nasturtium experiment number two. This time my inspiration was drawn from Alex Mitchell's book 'The Rurbanite'  - and I have to mention that I'm listed in the book as Alex came over when writing it, had a chat over a cup of tea and a look round the veg patch. As this was several years ago, I'm inordinately proud of being credited in the back pages as 'Veg Grower'. 

'Empress of India' seedpod from a lovely deep crimson flower.

Anyway … capers. With the help of a friend and some small curious boys, I gathered 200g of seedpods and soaked them overnight (24 hrs) in a light salt solution; this gets rid of bugs and bacteria. A teaspoon of salt to 200ml of tap water will do it. Pick only the green seedpods (or, from a red flowered plant, they may have red markings as in the above photo). The older, yellower seedpods tend to be dry and past their best.  (Update: In the comments below, Michelle from Veg Plotting says that the smaller pods are best, the bigger ones having developed the texture of cardboard.)

Having soaked and drained them, I divided them into 2 sterilised jars and topped this up with cold white wine vinegar to cover them.  At this stage, you can decide whether to add herbs or not. I chose to add bay leaves round the edge (decorative and flavoursome) and a swirl of fennel and a couple of lemon verbena leaves on the top as that's what I had to hand. Tarragon leaves are also recommended. How easy is that?

Naturally, I had to go and get some more for the blog photo! ;) 


Now I just have to leave them for a couple of weeks to let the flavours develop and then I have a whole year to use the jar up. If I'm honest, the last time I bought a jar of capers, they sat at the back of the cupboard until their use by date when I kicked myself for wasting money while throwing them in the bin.  I'd needed them for a recipe which I then couldn't find again. If the same happens again, this time it will only have cost me the vinegar - a small comfort.

By the way, if you don't like the taste of vinegar, the smaller fresh seedpods can be washed and added direct to salads, pasta or pizza.  They have a peppery taste and crunchy texture.  But don't try and store them fresh as they'll quickly go soft and, left in water, will start to smell in a most off-putting way.

As a complete procrastination from doing other rather dull things this morning, I've used the top photo to create a jar label, thinking to pretty the jar up for a gift. (I have a neighbour who says she adores eating capers; I want to see what she thinks of these.) I tried tying with a ribbon but prefer the rustic look of a length of Nutscene garden twine. This is the result.



Help yourself to the label if you want, it's here as a printable pdf. (Please let me know if this doesn't work!)

Update:  Nasturtiums are genetically related to watercress.  Think of the strong peppery taste of those leaves and you'll have an approximation of the taste of nasturtium pods. Hmm, I'm now wondering if I could  make nasturtium soup (as watercress soup is one of my favourites). 

17 comments:

  1. I've done exactly the same, purchased a jar of capers, had one teaspoon's worth out and thrown the rest in the bin. The use by date after opening is ridiculously short. Your nasturtium capers sound a much better bet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll try anything once, Jessica! I'll leave them for a while to let the flavours develop and then see what I think.

      Delete
  2. Great! Never knew you could eat their seed pods. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Heidi, your blog is new to me so I'll pop over and have a browse later. Your blog name made me smile, part greeting and part hort reference, brilliant. I knew the seed pods could be eaten but no idea they tasted like capers when pickled. Hope they taste good!

      Delete
  3. This is a brilliant idea, capers are so expensive. I shall definitely try growing nasturtiums next year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Claire, you're the second person I've heard of with problems growing nasturtiums. Although they flower roughly early June to late October, the clue is that they're related genetically to watercress so the seeds like cool moist soil to grow. Also they prefer poor soil, the nutrient rich stuff gives all leaves and no flowers.

      Delete
  4. I have tasted these once but bot having eaten 'real' capers I had nothing to compare them to

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm guessing that 'once' was enough, Sue! They're quite peppery!

      Delete
    2. It wasn't that I didn't like them Caro., someone else made them and I haven't found a need to pickle them as I'd be struggling to find a reason to use them.

      Delete
  5. Nasturtium capers is one of my most populsr posts of all time and they're delicious as long as you pick them small. The larger ones are a bit like cardboard! We lovevthem on pizzas as well as on salad :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brilliant advice, Michelle, thank you. I was unsure whether the bigger ones were better or worse to pick; divided up into separate seeds, the bigger ones are about the same size as capers. I'll edit my post to incorporate your advice and go and have a read of your post! :) xx

      Delete
  6. Thanks for sharing this interesting recipe. I will try and give it a go next year (for once we did not have any nasturtiums!). I have eaten the seeds raw in salads and found them a bit too peppery, so it will be interesting to see if they mellow in the vinegar.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Firehorse. Amazing that you didn't have any nasturtiums if you've had them in previous years but perhaps the seeds from last year rotted with all the wet weather. I think pickling will preserve the pods rather than tempering their heat but, for a few pennies worth of vinegar and some herbs, I felt it was worth having a go.

      Delete
  7. An interesting, and informative, post, and lovely pictures especially the first one. Flighty xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Flighty. I delved through the archives for that first picture as I haven't had stripey nasturtiums for a few years. They're Alaska and rather jolly - I'm going to order some more for next year!

      Delete
  8. Wow, how wonderful they look and your labels set them off so well.....I wish I lived next door and could have a jar, I may give this a go! What an inspiring post.xxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bless you Dina for your lovely comments - thank you! I do wish that bloggy friends were able to get together more easily - that would be a coffee morning and a half! xx

      Delete

Comments on my posts are much appreciated and help to build an online community of blog friends. Everyone is welcome! I love to discover new blogs so please leave a comment to introduce yourself.
Caro x

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...