Capers

We have been growing caper plants in South Australia for over twelve years and have researched caper growing throughout the world. Extensive trial beds of capers have been conducted and we have learnt how to both successfully grow and harvest capers as well as how to propagate them and have selected a variety that is superior to all the others. We are able to propagate (clone) this variety after many years of research and experimentation and have registered this variety with IP Australia under the Plant Breeder's Rights (PBR) legislation. It is a thornless variety, Capparis spinosa rupestris and we have called this variety "Eureka".
The 'Eureka' Caper plant is superior for the following reasons:
It is a thornless bush and produces more capers in weight each time it is harvested
It begins to shoot and grow earlier in the spring than other bushes
It continues to flower and leaves stay green longer into the autumn and winter

WHERE CAPERS GROW
This hardy perennial comes from the Mediterranean region of Southern Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa. Capers have become part of our Mediterranean diet along with olives, grapes, almond, pistachio, sun-dried tomatoes, dips and cheeses. They grow very well in the hot parts of Southern and central Australia and now we can enjoy their delights. The plant naturally grows in poor soils, in hot dry regions. However it thrives on the volcanic islands around Sicily. From our experience the plant needs the top 200-300mm to be dry and well drained, never wet or waterlogged. It thrives in the full sun in hot to very hot conditions. Generally it does not like humidity.

THE CAPER BUSH
The Caper Bush grows to about 1 metre high, with the lower branches creating their own mulch along the ground. The leaves are tough and rounded. The flowers, which grow on long petioles between the leaves, are very attractive with white petals and many long purple stamens. Each flower usually lasts only 24 hours, but there is a continual opening of flowers along the stem. Some species and varieties of Caper bushes develops spines under the leaf axil, but the variety we sell are spineless.

THE BEST GROWING CONDITIONS
The best growing conditions for Capers is in the full sun, planted on a mound of well drained material over good rich soil.  It is beneficial to add good compost and lime to the soil before planting and twice yearly application of organic mineral mix. The plants require some watering until established. Then they require no watering (similar to planting a gum or wattle tree). They enjoy the addition of organic mineral mix to the soil, in spring and autumn.
Problems   White butterflies can be controlled by organic means.

HARVESTING CAPERS
The Caper, which has been used as a condiment for over 5000 years, is the un-opened flower bud. They should be picked while the bud is still tight. The bush can be harvested every 10-12 days in the hot season. If allowed to flower, the caper bush produces a long oblong-shaped fruit with many seeds; this can also be pickled. Some people also use the young shoots and leaves at the end of the stem both fresh and pickled.

WINTER PRUNING  In the winter the bush is normally totally pruned back to the stump and this ensures a good crop the following summer.

HOW TO PRESERVE CAPERS
The best way to process the capers is to add coarse salt to the picked capers (40% of the weight of the capers) and stir occasionally for about 10-12 days, when the liquid that forms on the bottom is drained off. Add salt again (half the original amount) for another 10 days or so. Then the capers are ready to use, just wash off the salt, or stored in dry salt. They can be made ready for use by soaking in a bowl of water to remove the salt. (Traditionally the caperberry is pickled by soaking in salt water for a day, then washing the salt off and storing the berries in white wine vinegar. The salting process can be repeated if required.)

USING CAPERS IN COOKING 
Capers add a pleasant but sharp and piquant flavour to cooking, and because it is known to promote the appetite, it is used mainly in Hors d’oeuvres. It is used in salads and mayonnaise; as a garnish; as a topping on pizzas or omelettes; in making caper sauce and tartar sauce; and on fish, or chicken. The possibilities are endless.

CONTACT    Brian Noone  0407 189 716     email:  caperplants@va.com.au
Brian’s report on the Caper Industry in the Mediterranean Region is available on the web. 
 

Authored by: 
Brian Noone
Sourced from: 
Sub-Tropical Fruit Club of Qld newsletter June/July 2010
Date sourced: 
June 2010