Making “capers” with nasturtium seeds and a hint of mermaid

A short-haired child in light blue shirt and burgundy pants kneels with face turned away from camera, carefully dropping seeds into a white plastic bowl. A nasturtium vine with pale yellow flowers drifts across her knees and the bowl, running from front to back.

This time of year picking seeds is a good seasonal activity. It turns out to be an excellent job for a four year old to go seed-hunting along all the places where nasturtium vines have trailed out of their bounds.

Last year at the end of nasturtium season I tried making my own “capers”. I’d read about substituting nasturtium seed pods for capers online, I had the book “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Katz which gave a reliable method, I had two nasturtium vines that were just finishing flowering and I love capers. The resulting jar of little goodness was much appreciated by myself and my sister-in-law. I didn’t feel guilty about taking as many nasturtium seedpods as I could because, well, nasturtiums. This is what last year’s two de-seeded vines made this year. No shortage -grin-.

Tis the season again, and I had a couple of “helpers” looking for something to do, so I handed out a plastic tub and said “see if you can fill it”. The first helper rubbed their eyes with their hands a couple of times and got the nasturtium oil in them so they were out of the game quickly, and the second helper is somewhat easily distracted, but they both enjoyed it.

I could grow my own capers here. The Capparis bush would be eminently suited to my drylands food forest. But I haven’t, because it’s a very spiny, prickly bush and I figure it’s not going to survive for long with multiple families using the space. Nasturtiums play a different role in the system but food-wise are equivalent and can produce quite a bit of bounty. They do have that hot bite to them, which is partly what makes them such good tangy faux capers and also what keeps the Cabbage White butterflies circling the patch. It’s an unusual case of convergent evolution, where nasturtiums independently evolved the same hot chemicals to protect against being eaten as the broccoli and cabbage family did, despite being not related at all. So the butterflies which do eat cabbages smell the nasturtiums and get confused. And I never care if their caterpillars eat the nasturtiums -grin-

Close-up on a pile of nasturtium seeds. They are a third-of-a-circle around, with deep grooves or ribs down the outer face, and about 7-10 mm long and across. They are mostly light green but some pods have red stripes down the ribs.

The little pods come in threes. It doesn’t seem to take long to find hundreds but it takes forever to fill the container!

It turns out quite easy to find masses of seed pods when you’re harvesting, but it still seems to take forever to fill the container. I’m debating hiring some friends’ children to come pick the rest for me. This is one of the products I’d consider commercialising in an urban farming system. The inputs are reasonably simple to manage, and the preparation of the final product is comparatively trivial and easily done in a commercial kitchen. And growing it here is quite straight forward. It might work quite well as a secondary crop in a snail harvesting system, for instance.

A white ceramic casserole dish sits to the right. Looking down into it it is half full of little green pods and dried herb flakes, covered in cling wrap. To the left is a glass pitcher of clear fluid (brine) and behind are a jar labelled "Australian Sea Salt" and a packet labelled "Garlic Powder".

The nasturtium capers ready to ferment. I’ve rinsed them, added herbs and spices, poured in my brine and put a cover over the top to keep them submerged in the liquid. I’ll taste test them starting in three days time to see when they’re right.

Making the capers took me about fifteen minutes last night, not counting interruptions. I made up some salt water brine using Australian sea salt, the stuff that if I taste it throws me straight back twenty five or thirty years to playing mermaids under the waves in the so, so clear Southern Ocean. I mixed some herbs and flavourings in with the capers – this time ground mountain pepper leaf and garlic powder (which worked nicely last year). I will try another batch in a couple of weeks with fresh home-grown garlic, or maybe red spring onions. Pour the brine over the capers in a ceramic or glass container, seal from the air to make sure they all stay under the surface of the liquid, and set aside on the shelf. From about three days they start being ready – the fermentation process happens without any further input, so then it’s just a question of tasting them and deciding when you think they’re done enough. Last year that was about three days. Ferment speeds will vary though and it was hotter when I did it last year, so I’m expecting maybe five days this time.

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One Response to Making “capers” with nasturtium seeds and a hint of mermaid

  1. Pingback: 10 Delicious Nasturtium Recipes | Grower Direct Fresh Cut Flowers Presents…

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