Milkweed capers are a fun project I’ve been playing with for a few months. I’ve preserved plenty of unopened flower buds: nasturtiums, dandelions (personal favorite) chives, and day lilies to name a few. All of those make fun capers, but milkweed buds are fun since they can be harvested quickly, and in bulk.
In the beginning of the season, milkweed is a little shoot, it grows, developing leaves along the way, eventually forming buds on the top, which I also refer to as “raabs”- pretty much a pet name for buds that will eventually turn into flowers.
At first the buds are small, tight, and cook similarly to broccoli. As the season progresses, the buds change. The connective thread they grow from on the plant gets longer, making the buds look extra large, and bushy. After a while these change color, from green, to lavender/light purple. After the buds change color, they turn into flowers.
The bud’s shape transformation and color change fascinate me, as well as the fact that they’re edible at every single stage of their growth until the flowers dry in the sun, falling off the plant; each of these stages hold different possibilities.
The capers came about when I was picking the buds to cook this year and discovered certain patches of milkweed that were more exposed to sun than others. The ones in the sun were growing faster, and I had missed them at the green stage-all of the milkweed in the sunny area was purple and getting ready to flower.
When the bud stems are longer, and changing color, they don’t stay tight and firm like when they’re green and immature, they cook up kind of flat (literally speaking) and have a tendency to soak up oil in the pan or absorb too much sauce and get soggy. It’s easy to pick the buds off the stem at this stage though, yielding perfect little orbs, which make me think capers, so that’s where the Idea came from: different stages of the plant’s life=different cooking techniques.
You could definitely take the tight green buds and pickle them too, but I know If I have a bunch of fresh milkweed buds, they never seem to stay around long enough to warrant pickling when green.
The capers turned out just like I thought they would, but with one exception: the pickling liquid turned vibrant red. I expected the buds to lose their purple hue after sitting in the vinegar, but many of nature’s colors, especially those in flowers, can transfer to liquids they are stored or cooked in, especially when those liquids contain alcohol or vinegar. Marigolds, calendula, violets, and other edible flowers will do this too.
The coloration from the flowers was so pretty it inspired me to experiment with it in a few different ways. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that Arabic rosewater came to mind-the type used in cakes and pastries.
I wrote another recipe last year for capers made from dandelion buds, and you might be wondering what the difference is here. It isn’t too different, but these are made with a cold pickling method, whereas the dandelions are made with a hot method. Both techniques would be usable here, but the cold method preserved the almost caviar texture of the small buds better than a hot pickling method would, it’s also way easier.
Here’s a basic method. Feel free to elaborate by adding herbs, etc. You can also adjust the water/vinegar ratio to give you more or less acidity, depending on your taste.
- Unopened milkweed flower buds, picked from their stem, as needed
- White vinegar, such as white wine or plain white, mixed with 25% water
- Kosher salt, to taste
Whisk salt into the vinegar to taste, continuing to whisk until it dissolves. Pack canning jars 3/4 full of milkweed flower buds, placing a thyme sprig or two in each. Fill the jars to the top with the vinegar, seal, and refrigerate. Allow the milkweed capers to age in the fridge for a month or more before using.