01 July 2010

How To Preserve Capers

This may have been the most fun thing I made during my time in Sicily. Not just because it was so simple, but because it included an adventure! Scouring the countryside for cappero bushes was an experience I will not easily forget. We searched for them down small roads and along stone walls. They were slightly elusive, growing in dry fields, among clumps of fan palms and other similarly shaped bushes. But it was the delicate, creamy blossoms that would give them away. For a detailed account of my caper adventure, see Wild Capers!

So after you gather your capperi, you need to wash them thoroughly. If you have enough, you can sort them according to size. The small, baby sized capers are what we are accustomed to getting at the store. But capers can get rather large as they get closer to blooming. Italians like these larger ones for salads. I was picking all the cute little buds that I was familiar with and my husband was picking the large buds that he preferred. Then there are the caper “berries”, which I had not known about previously. These are the seed pods that form after the flower blooms. They look a little like mini torpedoes, but they have a slightly different taste than the buds do.

Now, there are two ways of preserving capers. They can be preserved dry in salt, which is very common in Sicily, or they can be pickled with vinegar. I have done both, but I prefer them pickled.

To make capperi sotto sale, or preserved in salt, you must first butare l’acqua, or get the water out. Put your washed capers in a colander or strainer resting on a bowl and toss them with a generous amount of salt. Using a large grain salt works the best if you can find it. Leave the capers like this for two days, adding additional salt as needed, as much of it will drip out with the caper water. This is the time that your whole house will fill with the aroma of capers. After about two days of releasing their water and they seem a little shriveled, it is recommended that you leave them in the sun for a bit to dry out. Then you put a layer of salt on the bottom of a jar, layer the capers and continue to alternate layers of salt and capers until you get to the top. There is no boiling needed, as the salt does all the preserving for you. You can’t get more antique than that. Close the lid tightly and you can keep them for quite a while--maybe even forever. Store them in a cool, dark place for at least a month, and then you can start eating them. When using capperi sotto sale, take the amount you need and rinse them under cold water before using. If they still seem too salty, soak them in water for a few minutes.

Capperi sott’aceto, or pickeled capers, are much quicker and easier to make. Pack your fresh, washed capers into sterile jars. Bring a small pan of white wine vinegar to boil (measure enough vinegar to fill your jar) with a bit of salt and an optional bay leaf. If your vinegar is really acrid, you can add a pinch or two of sugar to cut the acidity. Pour the boiling vinegar over the capers, filling to the rim, close the lid tightly, and your done! Turn the jar upside down for twenty minutes to get a good seal and store in a cool dark place for about two months before using. Personally, I couldn’t wait that long and I tried mine after two weeks. They were so delicious!


  1. So you should have a travel show on finding important, natural, antioxidant ingredients. Look what you can do with capers! I didn't even know you could have such an adventure.

  2. Nicole, this is most interesting. I myself love going to harvest wild things like you did with capers. They cost 8$ for a gross weight of a pound with vinegar at wholefood ! Besides I had never seen what these wild bushes look like, they also grow on walls , don't they ? Waiting for more interesting stuff from you !

  3. Thank your for your simple recipe.. I live in Tuscany and when we put in a swimming pool, I had a stone wall build with special holes in it to plant capers. So I have my own capers growing, but have never known how to salt them properly.. I just buried them in salt without draining them with salt first and they weren't a great success. Now with your method I shall try with this year's crop.. So again thanks.


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