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The Very Useful Caper Plant

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The caper (Capparis spinosa) is one of the most characteristic plants of the Balearic islands. In its natural habitat this very useful plant lives in the walls of ancient city walls as well as on rocky, coastal cliff faces. Capers used to be cultivated in the Mediterranean basin for their flower buttons and unripe fruits, which are eaten once pickled in brine. The large flowers with white petals and lots of stamens that open in the Summer are quite beautiful. The flower is fragile and short-lived, though. The delicate, cream-white petals and lively purple stamens persist only a few hours.

It is quite plausible that the caper was first introduced to Mallorca by the Moors during their 300 year long reign at the beginning of the second Millenium. The Arab name al-Kabara (alcaparra in Castellano, taparera in Catalan) seems to suggest an Arab origin.

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When propagated and farmed the Capparis spinosa is a remarkable plant as you can see from the two photos above. The evergreen plant spreads in circular lumps of perhaps 2 m in diameter and is planted in rows, often amongst trees such as almonds. In Mallorca, the areas of Campos del Port, Santanyí and Llubi are particularly reknowned for their alcaparras production. But, in a way it seems as if capers have lately gone out of fashion. The harvest is rather tiresome with quite a bit of bending down being involved.

In the Mallorcan markets, you can buy fresh capers. Smaller buds (nonpareilles with less than one centimeter diameter) are considered more valuable than the larger capucines and communes (more than 1.5cm diameter). You can also find capers readily prepared in a brine solution and sold in glass jars in the markets; in English these are also known as caper berries. Their flavour is very intense.

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The photos were taken in Campos del Port, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: July 9th, 2009. The time was 10:12:40, 10:13:52 and 10:13:16, respectively.

1 reply »

  1. Fantastic! Thanks for this insight! I’ve looked at your blog quite a bit while we’ve been here in Mallorca over the last 5 weeks or so updating a travel guide book. I love the insight into everyday life here you provide. I’ve tweeted that on Twitter.

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