From the Jordan
by: Ammar Khammash
Caper picking or Caper season
The most concentrations of caper bushes are by the sides of the back-road from Wadi al Sir to Fuhais. You can find caper plants almost anywhere, and very possibly growing out of cracks in the walkway in front of you house.
The trick is to recognize the plant in the first place and then to learn about its favorite habitat on rock cliffs and stonewalls of traditional architecture or archeological sites.
Beware the snakes, and be careful as the caper bush has spines that are curving inwards, like claws of cats, that can scratch your hand or rip your clothes.
Picking caper needs good timing, to find the buds at their best size (about the size of chickpeas), any delay the buds will open into flowers. Towards the summer, most of the caper buds get infected with tiny worms that somehow mark the end of the season.
Bring along some containers; plastic bags are ok, provided that picked capers are not left in them overnight. Ideally capers should be pickled in the same day of picking.
Happy caper-picking and good luck -----
It is a posh restaurant. The waiter arriver with a big plate, and with a theatrical movement, places it between the expensive-looking knife and fork. In the vast circle of its white china, slices of smoked salmon show their attractive subtle peach color that making them something precious. More precious than the fish, are the four of five caper buds, in antique bronze, completing the composition. All in all the plate looked like from a page of an elitist gourmet magazine.
Caper is expensive. It often accompanies expensive dishes, and is has strong association with seafood.
The round magical caper that you usually encounter in you plate is in fact the unopened flower of the caper bush. In few cases, as in Italy, you can find caper seeds complete with their stem, pickled to look lick baby cucumber. In some of the Mediterranean islands, leaves of caper are prepared as salad, and in some of the Palestinian village, around Jerusalem, caper is pickled in yogurt.
Caper is native to many parts of the old world; it particularly thrives in the Mediterranean climate. The name of this plant sounds almost the same in so many languages. "Capparis spinosa" is the scientific name, Gubbar in Arabic, Kapper in German, Kapersy in Russian, Kapris in Finnish, Kabra in Bengali, Kabarra in Punjabi, etc. these names may hint to a central ancient knowledge of the edibility of this plant within the context of the old world to the east of the Mediterranean. Its name in Spanish “Alcaparro”, and in Portuguese “Alcaparra” would defiantly add to its history an Arabian connection.
In Jordan, traditional village cuisine keeps it out of the list of edible wiled plants. Sometime during the last two thousand years, the tradition of caper-eating got lost. “Jordanians” of the Roman period must have knew capers, it is mentioned in the writings of Pliny (23- 79 AD) who boasted of the capers from the region around the Sea of Galilee as being the best in the Roman Empire.
Beside its medical benefits, being anti-rheumatic, a strong anti-oxidant, a kidney disinfectant, improving liver function and good for many other applications, caper has been part of ancient kitchens already since Pharaonic times. The following ancient recipe may shed light on the peculiarities of ancient gastronomy and the way caper was used, if you wish to try this recipe, a disclaimer should be stressed, as I wouldn't be responsible for any resulting stomach troubles.
The Stuffed Alexandrian Loaf
Take a loaf, remove its inner pulp.
Sprinkle loaf with a mixture of vinegar and water.
In a mortar, grind as a sauce, a mixture of pepper, garlic, peppermint, honey, salty cow cheese, oil and some water.
Stuff the loaf with chicken liver (cooked), goat stomach, caper, hard cheese, pine seeds, cucumber (in small cubes) and tiny slices of dried onion.
Pour the sauce over the stuffing, refrigerate the loaf with snow (in ancient times most probably brought from Mount Hermon as a luxury item for the wealthy, instead, never the less, you can use crushed ice from a modern refrigerator.) - serve for eating.
Pliny mentioned in his books that Alexandrian bread was flavored with cumin.
Caper bush with its flower; note the claw-like thorns at stems of leaves.
The edible caper berries are in fact the flower buds before opening.
Capers should be picked when buds are the size of chickpeas, and pickled in water and salt in the same day of picking.