This is a blog about home canning—or "putting up" as one might say where I'm from—and it will cover jams and other fruit preserves, pickles and briny things, canned vegetables (above all tomatoes) and the complement of condiments that includes relishes, sauces, salsas and those related preparations that result when you chunk bits of seasonal produce and preserve them in a syrup either piquant or sweet.

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« Asparagus Pickled with Tarragon and Green Garlic | Main | Preserving Class—a few spots left for this saturday »
Tuesday
Apr132010

California Capers, aka Pickled Nasturium Pods

At the end of class on Saturday, we had a chicken-tarragon terrine to steady us through cocktail hour, and I opened a jar of pickled nasturtium pods to go along with it. I call them CALIFORNIA CAPERS because they are just like capers, but better. The lovely Betty Hallock, my favorite food writer in LA, even mentioned them in the write-up she did on the class in the LA Times food blog, Daily Dish. They are, as she quotes me saying, the best capers ever. Plus I grew them in my backyard.

You know nasturtiums, right? They're the gaudy little flower that blooms hot yellow, orange, salmon and red among round leaves, ABOVE. It sprawls like ivy if given half a chance, and the untended patch of nasturtiums on the back hillside at Greenvalley has increased in size each of the six years I've been here. You'll see them growing wild along roadsides all over Southern California; I can think of stands on Mullholland Drive, on the PCH in Malibu and in Franklin Canyon Park.

The nasturtium season peaks around the Cinco de Mayo, and because of their color and exuberance, they always put me in mind of folkloric festivals. To be honest, I used to have a rather condescending attitude towards the nasturtium—that it's a quaint flower, pretty but simple.

Then I went to diner at Connie Wald's house in Bevery Hills.

Connie's story is a long one, but to be brief: She was a Claire McCardell model many, many years ago. Her final husband was the Hollywood movie producer Jerry Wald (An Affair to Remember, Peyton Place, From Here to Eternity) and she remains to this day a doyenne of the Beverly Hills social set. One of Connie's best friends was Audrey Hepburn, and today her closest circle includes Nancy Reagan and Betsy Bloomingdale. They're "the Girls."

Sharp as a tack at 90-some years old, Connie has a story about everyone and everything. She once told me about standing on a terrace in Whitley Heights with Rudolph Valentino and admiring the fragrant citrus groves in the Cahuenga Pass below. (Today that's the path of the 101 Freeway.) Another time we got to talking about The New Yorker magazine and she gave me a succinct critique of every one of the magazine's editors from the current, David Remnick, back to the original, Harold Ross. 

Connie has lived in the same house in Beverly Hills since 1946 and the decor is exactly how it was then—perfect and unchanging. She grows the most magnificent roses and camelias.

But apart from all that, Connie is one of the most naturally beautiful and stylish women I have ever met—and that's saying something after 15 years of working in and around the fashion industry. Despite being unfailingly nice—a sour word never crosses her lips—she is nonetheless captivating company. She's the opposite of a snob. She's a paragon of taste. Got the picture?

Ok, so one night I went to her house for dinner. Antonio the butler came to the door. A footman brought me a drink. Connie was in front of a crackling fire with Gore Vidal. And the house was positively filled with vases of nasturtiums gathered from Connie's gardens. "I just love them," she said.

I no longer condescend to the nasturtium.

All parts of the plant are edible. Sometimes you'll the find the leaves or the flowers themselves in salads at locavore restaurants. The taste is peppery, like a particularly intense radish. The part you pickle is the seed pod, ABOVE

A few days after the bloom fades, the plant produces its distinctive three-part pod at the end of a long stem that often has the arabesque flourishes of the signatures on the Declaration of Independence. Collect them before they become too dry and hard. Just pinch them off. Then you soak them in several changes of brine to remove the peppery sting. Then you cover them with vinegar and store them in the fridge. That's it. Delicious.

Where are you going to get the pods?

I've never seen them for sale, but at farmers markets I sometimes see bunches of nasturtium flowers. You could ask the farmer, very nicely, if he or she could bring you some. Or you could keep your eyes peeled for roadside patches and gather nasturtiums "from the wild."

Or you could grow you own—like Connie does.

CALIFORNIA CAPERS, aka PICKLED NASTURTIUM PODS

1 pint fresh nasturtium pods

water

salt

white wine vinegar

1  Gently rinse and drain the pods, then cover with a brine of 1.5 tablespoons of salt to 1 cup water. Soak uncovered at room temperature overnight.

2  Drain and repeat. Don't worry about the gross smell, but pick out any soggy bits of blossom that may cling to the pods.

3  Drain and once again cover with brine.

4  On the fourth day, drain and pack into a jar. Cover with vinegar and, if you want, season with a slice of shallot. Cover the jar and store in the refridgerator. It will keep a year although probably not last that long. They can be used in any recipe calling for capers.

Reader Comments (12)

Love the story about Connie. But how oh how did you ever think to pickle the nasturtium pods?

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSharelle

Kevin -
Have you tried this post regarding nasturtiums seeds from Linda the Great? Thanks for the taste on Saturday!
"This year I decided to do something simpler: In early July, I combined 1/2 cup cider vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small jar, and stirred to dissolve the salt. I covered the jar tightly and set it on a cupboard shelf. And then I added nasturtium pods, a few at a time over the next three months, until aphids and cold weather did in the plants. "
That's all you need for pickling nasturtium pods: vinegar and a little salt. Refrigeration isn't necessary. If I don't eat them all sooner, my pickled nasturtium pods will last in the cupboard until next summer, when the nasturtiums will be blooming again.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Andrea -- i had not seen that from Linda the Great (Linda Ziedrich) -- thank you so much for posting! best kevin

April 13, 2010 | Registered CommenterKevin West

THANK YOU THANK YOU! Now I know what the heck that pretty flower is growing in my garden. Ha ha ha! The birds must have planted it because I have a few random vines that have just shot up. I want to replant them so they can grow bigger now and I can preserve this yummy fruit. I am so very excited with this new found knowledge!

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJessi

How super cool. I did not realise nasturtium pods were edible. sounds like something I need to try!

April 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertalia

So glad to see this entry! We've been planting nasturtiums in our garden for years with a 5-fold purpose: 1) They attract nasty bugs away from the veggies 2) They attract pollinators to the veggies 3) The flowers and leaves add taste and color to salads and as garnishes 4) Pickling the pods is so darn easy, I save a ton of money on capers and never run out 5) The flowers are just so colorful in the garden and in arrangements.

We do the same with marigolds. They protect and add color to the garden, the flowers are gorgeous in arrangements, the petals (not leaves) are great for salads and garnishes, and the chickens love them, the petals make their yolks more golden!

April 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Thank you for posting this. I've always wanted to get capers to grow for me, and so far, I've had no success. I knew that folks pickled nasturtium (a snap to grow) seeds as a substitute, but I had never seen a recipe for them. Ta da! Here it is. Now I can stop fitzing away at trying to grow capers and make use of what I already have. Many thanks.

April 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

Thank you for sharing such marvelous tales of the bounty of the seasons -- this picture is visually stunning, not to mention your captivating writing. It makes me home sick for So. California.

April 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLauryn

can i just say that the top photo is absolutely gorgeous!

...and i just returned to nyc from a 2 week tour of your lovely state. right down highway one from point reyes, inverness, napa, SF, big sur, santa barbara, LA, palm springs & san diego. what beauty surrounds you! :)

April 24, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertigress

Kevin, I'm a little confused. Do you mean a brine of 1.5 tablespoons salt to 1 cup water? Otherwise I can't see what makes the brine or where the salt is added to the recipe. I have a pint of nasturtium pods on hand and really want to start this tonight!

Shae --

Yes! That is what I meant -- thanks for catching the error -- and sorry for the confusion!

kevin

August 4, 2010 | Registered CommenterKevin West

Wonderful story, and a great post. My pods are brining as we type! Can't wait for the taste test!!!

August 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Campbell

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