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RE: Caper Question Posted

In response to a question from Melissa Leccese who asked, "What is a caper?" Here's a piece that ran awhile back in The Gourmet Connection eMagazine at www.norwich.net/gourmet

I hope you like it.
What is a Caper, Anyway?

It's a mystery to most. Those dark, little round things so effortlessly recognized as capers. Capers may be correctly identified on sight, but that positive I.D. certainly doesn't mean you actually know what the heck it is. Are you ready for the low-down, the scoop, the dirt? Drum roll, please...

        Capers are the unripened flower buds of a spiny shrub most commonly found in the Mediterranean region, with Italy, Spain, and Algeria being the largest producers. These unripened buds are picked before they have a chance to open, and may be salted and pickled in vinegar (or pickled in vinegar without being salted). Capers are used to add a salty, sour, or sharp flavor to dressings, sauces, and other dishes. It makes sense that capers are used in chicken or veal picatta, since the word picatta actually means "sharp." 

        Capers have been used in cooking for a long, long time. It was among the classic ingredients used by the ancient Greeks. Capers can contain as much as 125 mg. of sodium per serving, so they may increase retention of fluids and raise blood pressure. To avoid the extra salt found in commercially sold capers, you can buy farm fresh capers or grow your own caper bush. 

        The caper bush, known as "caperes spinosa," is a perennial that can be grown in your garden without too much difficulty. The plants can be started indoors from seed, and moved outside in mild climates. They need direct sunlight, and cannot tolerate frost. To harvest, pick off the flower buds before they show any color and steep them in vinegar.