Homemade Pickled Capers, Caper Leaves, and Caper Berries

Foraged lacto-fermented capers
If you live in a warm dry place, you've probably seen these plants growing everywhere. Any place that looks too inhospitable for any plant to possibly grow, thats where you'll find these, whether you're talking about in the middle of a wall of pure rock or in dirt that hasn't seen any water in months. And they're stubborn little things- once this plant decides to set its roots somewhere, it digs them in long and deep, and you'll have no luck killing the plant, no matter how many attempts you make on its life.
What plant is this?

Capparis spinosa, the caper bush. 

Caper bushes have been a source of food millenia- I know there are references to this plant as a food source even in the Bible! But how the first person who started using caper bushes as a food source ever got the idea is beyond me, as every single part of the plant tastes quite nasty when first picked off the bush and needs some preparation in order to make it palatable. (Probably the same person who discovered olives are edible, as they also taste vile straight off the tree.)

Speaking of every part of the plant... I don't know of another plant where so many different parts of the same plant are edible and are used for food! In capers, the roots are used medicinally (as well as many other parts of the plant), and the shoots, leaves, flower buds, and berries are all eaten as food. I have no experience eating the shoots or roots of the plant, but have prepared capers (the unopened flower buds), caper leaves, and caper berries (the fruit of the plant) to eat and its quite an experience, I have to tell you.

 The foods taste like no other, with a smell like dirty feet, but they're a great addition to all sorts of Italian and Greek dishes, making them worthwhile to prepare at home if you can find a bush (or two or 10) in your area.

How do you identify caper plants?

Note where its growing! In a tiny crack between an asphalt sidewalk and a stone wall!
Well, they're a thorn bush, for one, so if you don't see thorns, its not a caper bush.

They usually sprawl everywhere, in many different directions, without any apparent rhyme or reason.

They've got round green leaves ranging in diameter from dime to half dollar size, and they're a bright green.

Quite often the stems are bright purple, but they also can be a muted maroon-sh brown.

The best way, really, to identify a caper bush is by the unopened flower buds along the stem or by their beautiful luscious flowers.

To find a caper bush, you'll want to look in the most unlikeliest of places, places where you're sure no life can grow. The ramparts of the castle of Santa Bárbaraare in Spain are one of the many absurd places that capers grow. But the best place to look for capers is in the same exact spot that you saw a bush the year before- because as I said above, no matter how many times you try to cut them down, capers won't die, and won't disappoint, for every year you can be rest assured that they'll be there, barring some miracle.

As usual with foraging, the most annoying weeds, especially thorny weeds, often make very good food. Capers are the perfect example of this. A prickly bush that you can't kill no matter how you try? Might as well put it to use in the kitchen, as I do thistle and nettles.

To pick and pickle your own capers, caper leaves, and caper berries, you'll want to first identify your caper plant.

Caper buds (capers) before pickling
Once doing that, decide what you want- do you want plain capers, the leaves, or the berries? (You won't usually find caper buds and berries at the same time on the same plant, as the buds open up to make the flowers, which then become fertilized to make the berries.) Bring a bag or container to hold each of these, and pick away, keeping the different types separate. Expect to get pricked one time or a million unless you use gardening gloves. (I prefer to work gloveless and have become somewhat adept at avoiding the thorns.) All sizes of caper buds and leaves are fine, but the bigger berries often don't taste as good.

If you dare, taste them now. They're vile. They're filled with mustard oil that you'll want to release in order to make them palatable. To do so, you'll want to soak them in plain water, changing it daily, for a week.
Caper leaves in a jar before pickling.
During this time, you'll see many changes happening to the leaves, berries, and buds. They'll go from a bright green (and sometimes purple) to a drab olive green, with lighter green splotches on their surface. At the same time, every time you come near the jars of your soaking caper parts, you'll catch a whiff of a disgusting odor, and that's good, because it means the bad stuff is getting released and isn't remaining in the food you want to eat. The water will also likely change color to a yellowish, greenish color, possibly with little white things floating on the surface. You want that to happen- it means things are working out right!

At the end of the week, when your plant matter has changed color and finished releasing most of its bad flavor, you'll want to pickle these. 
A salty vinegary brine is the typical way to do this, but lacto-fermenting it in salt water also works great. (If you do want to do it vinegary, just mix salt, vinegar, and water to taste and pour it on to the caper parts.) 
This time, I chose to make mine lacto-fermented, using approximately one tablespoon of salt for every cup of water. (This will be very salty, saltier than your standard lacto-fermented pickles, but you want it salty, as capers are supposed to have a salty taste.)
Keep your lacto-fermenting caper parts in a warm place for a few days, tasting them daily. When they have the right amount of tang and saltiness, put them in your fridge. They should last a long time, as a little bit goes a long way. Fortunately, capers don't spoil if prepared properly, so you can keep a batch made in the summer all year round, until capers are once again ready to be picked.

Foraged lacto-fermented capers
Capers have a taste that is extremely complex, and according to many, is an acquired taste. Its sharp, piquant, and quite strongly flavored.

Foraged lacto-fermented caper leaves

Caper leaves, in my opinion, taste somewhat like salty hardboiled eggs, but you'll have to try them yourself to see if my description is good or not. They're typically eaten together with fish.
Pickled caper berries
Caper berries taste rather like caper buds, with a slightly different taste.

And oh yea- one last final thing- capers grow only in the summer! I'm finding caper buds now in May on some local bushes, and these bushes will likely be continuing to have more buds and flower and eventually make berries all throughout the season until September or even later.

Note: Bugs LOVE capers! Be sure to check your caper buds or leaves for bug holes or other signs of infestation if you want to avoid eating little ants, etc... with your capers.

I realize that these plants only grow in warm places like where I live, but wanted to share my tips on how to make these for those people in the same general region and just to have the information out there because there is a severe lack of information on how to prepare these on Google.

Do you ever eat capers? How much do they cost where you live? What are your favorite uses for capers?
Did you know that if you live in the land of no capers (aka the USA aside for California), you can make your own mock capers, with nasturtium pods, dandelion buds, or even spruce tips?
Now that its finally warmer in the US and you're probably not covered in a blanket of snow anymore (I hope), what wild edibles are growing near you right now? What have you been foraging?

Linking up to Pennywise Platter Thursday.

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. I've just purchased some seeds, today, so don't consider myself a know-it-all.

    But, 'Capparis spinosa var inermis' is a thornless version of the caper of commerce.

    We find them, pre-made, in closeout stores, for next-to-nothing. We have a humongous jar, more than we can realistically eat.

    The plants themselves have been difficult for me to find or very expensive, in one case, costing over $40.

  2. Thanks for this!I am in Western Australia and picked a bunch of caper buds. Now I know how to prepare them for consumption!

  3. We can't grow them where I live in the mid-west. So I make a wild kind of 'caper' from Milkweed Flowerbuds. You can either use a vinegar based brine or lacto ferment them. Delicious.

  4. I'm so glad I saw your site before I tried pickling my caper berries. They are now soaking in a covered plastic container on my counter. Do they need to be refridgerated? It's about 75 F in my kitchen..

  5. We have capers growing in Israel everywhere, and they are mostly treated like weeds. They die in the winter, but come back in the spring. One bush growing out of our wall gave us HUGE amounts of buds, until I got tired of picking them. Now we just pickle the berries - I use a wine vinegar (yum!).

    Another dividend is that they attract a certain kind of butterfly, so our yard is host every summer to a lot of these fluttering friends. At the end of summer they lay eggs and hatch catapillars, which strip the leaves from the stems, but it's worth sharing with them. And by then we've had our fill of capers.

  6. Hi Penny, I grow caper plants in the Phoenix Metro area and for frugality I prefer pickling the berries (more volume for the time) in a lacto-fermenting process of just brine. Sometimes with LF I add a tiny bit of organic yogurt whey to the brine. I pierce the end of each berry with a toothpick to ensure the brine gets inside. Usually the process for the berries takes about 10 days, then I refrigerate. FYI I use mason jars and put a smaller mason jar with water inside the larger one to weigh the berries down so they are always submerged. Love them. I've used the same process for baby peaches after thinning the trees and the resulting pickle is like a crunchy olive.

  7. P.S. Penny - I have not found the pre-soaking necessary with the salt only brine.

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