The caper is neither a fruit nor a seed.
Tàperes (capers) are an essential condiment for many dishes in the cuisine of the Balearics. These are a traditional product of the Mallorcan countryside, and their use in cooking had already been experimented by the Greeks and Romans. The latter were true specialists in seasoning fish and meat with capers.
The caper is neither a fruit nor a seed, but rather the bud of a plant which is known on the island as the taparera. Its scientific name is Capparis spinosa, and it is classified as a shrub with various annual cycles which dries up in the winter, leaving only a long deep root with few ramifications.
Harvesting capers has always been one of the most arduous tasks in the Mallorcan countryside. It is a shrub and its flowers grow at ground level, which means the picker has to work bending down in the hot season, between June and September.
Traditionally this work was done by the women, who would get up at daybreak to begin their day’s work. Like this, the buds can be pulled off while they are still hard from the night and the risk of being pricked by the thorns which surround the leaves is reduced.
Multiple uses in cooking
Once picked, the capers can be kept in vinegar following a simple process and are ready to be eaten as an accompaniment, in the preparation of sauces, or as an ingredient in elaborated dishes.
If they are allowed to grow, the buds give rise to a thick flower with four white-coloured petals. The fruit of this is the taperot, which can also be pickled in vinegar although they are not so commercially widespread. The same is true of the leaves of the tapareres, exquisite for decorating some dishes.
Now it is hoped to promote this product and to increase its production. For the moment, the capers can already been found in delicatessen shops in many parts of the world.