Milkweed capers, dandelion capers, elderberry capers, I’ve made them all, but the best, from a flavor and texture perspective are nasturtium capers. They’re widely known in the chef and gastro-centric gardening communities, got a really good shout out in Jeremy Fox’s book On Vegetables in 2017. The book is chock-ful of cutting edge plates, and techniques used to make them, but, if you’re not a professional, and don’t have access to a garden full of produce, it might be just a coffee table book, and it’s a good one for that.
I tried making the capers a couple years, back, with a vinegar solution, and wasn’t impressed. It was Jeremy’s book that reminded me to keep a look-out for nasturtium seed pods for preserving so I could give them another shot. Previously, I could ask a farmer really nicely to save some here and there, and pay accordingly, which brings us to the first roadblock in making these: it’s not easy to get a ton of them, and unless you know someone with a really large nasturtium patch, you’re going to have to work for them. Making them is worth the effort though, I’ll tell you that.
You don’t need a bunch of fancy ingredients to make capers
But, before you embark on a journey to stuff jars of capers full of herbs and seasonings, think back to the first time you bought capers and ask yourself: “What was in the jar?”. The answer is nothing, there was nothing in that jar except brine and unopened flower buds: no rosemary, no peels of lemon rind, bay, thyme, chilis, huge cloves of garlic, peppercorns of any color, nothing.
I support creativity, and love seeing pictures of things in cute canning jars with ribbons on them as much as anyone else, but know that you don’t have to add all kinds of stuff to make great tasting capers. All you really need is a little time, salt, water, and nasturtium seed pods. Personally, I like clean tasting pickles more than ones that are muddy with too many flavors. Less is more.
Fermenting the seed pods is the key to flavor
Speaking of salt and water brings us to the most important aspect of making DIY nasturtium capers: the solution they cure and live in. Basically it comes down to: “Is there vinegar, or not?”. Most of the recipes out there have vinegar in them, and if you look on the side of your jar of capers from the store you’re probably going to see it too, but it’s unnecessary, and vinegar also destroys the textures of things, for example, Japanese knotweed will stay crisp in a salt brine, but will quickly get slimy in a vinegar solution.
Just a little salt and water in the right proportions, and with the right partners, will easily ferment right on your counter top for a day or two, and then put in the fridge, will eventually achieve a PH low enough that it will be shelf stable without any vinegar at all. I found I like to just keep them in the fridge, where they will last until the next ice age as long as they’re kept underneath the brine. With enough patience too, things kept in brine under refrigeration will ferment just like they would outside of the fridge, just at a slower pace, so know that is an option too if you don’t have time to watch them.
The only slightly tricky part with fermenting in brine (lacto-fermentation) is deciding how much salt to put in your brine. I like, and have had good success using 3-5% brine for my casual ferments at home. If you don’t know, using a scale to measure your salt for fermenting in brine is a great key for success. Scales are cheap now days, so if you don’t have one, go order one, wieghing ingredients for baking and fermenting will make you a better cook. Even so, I’m including both volume and weight measurements for simple, small batch brine fermented capers here.
Harvest nasturtium seed pods as you find them and add to the brine
At the end of the day though, what really matters is the flavor. “Do they taste good?” “Are they actually worth making?” Yes, and Yes. They taste and smell nearly the same as store bought capers after fermenting, but with a little more crunch. If you want softer capers, check out my post on milkweed capers.
The only tricky part with nasturtiums, as I alluded to before, is that it can be tricky to find lots of them. The good part is you can pick them as they come, and drop them in brine with the rest of the buds (in the fridge). Eventually flavors will align and they’ll all taste the same.
Oh, you can use both unopened flower buds and green seed pods, but the seed pods are superior in flavor and texture by far. The flower bud you see below was just an accident.
Nasturtium Capers (Lacto-Fermented)
- 25 grams kosher salt 1.5 tablespoon
- 500 grams water 2 cups
- Nasturtium seed pods as needed, rinsed clean
- Combine the water and salt and whisk to dissolve. Pour the salt water in to a mason jar or other conatiner and add the nasturtium seed pods, then screw on the lid.
- Leave the jar on the counter for 3 days to start fermenting, or leave out a bit longer if you want them to sour more quickly, then transfer to the fridge. Open the jar here and there to check on the capers and release carbon dioxide and to make sure water doesn't evacuate. I often put mason jars of ferments in another larger container to catch possible drips.
- After about 2 weeks the capers should have a nice flavor, but if you leave them in the fridge longer they will continue to age and develop until the pH is as low as it can go. More or less, the longer they sit, the better they will get, and you can let your palette be your guide.