Capers are a staple of our home cooking, and we eat them enough that I decided to learn how to grow them myself. I was disappointed to learn that they need a long growing season and lots of heat to thrive, so no luck in Vermont.
Traditional capers are the pickled flower buds of a heat-loving Mediterranean shrub, but there are a number of other pickled flower buds that taste remarkably similar.
Dandelions produce a small, caper sized flower bud early in spring before the stem shoots skyward and opens into a flower. If picked small enough, dandelion buds can be made into convincing dandelion capers. That’s a homemade caper that just about anyone can grow!
The first step is to find very tiny dandelion buds. I’m not talking about just plucking off closed flowers from the top of a dandelion stem. Those buds have already developed into a fully formed flower inside, and they’ll pickle into a squishy ball full of fluffy petals.
Capers have a bit of crunch to them, and to get that texture you need very young buds. Look at the ground for a telltale dandelion rosette. At the very center of a young plant, there will be a small dandelion bud very close to the ground. The stem hasn’t grown up yet, and the bud is still forming into a flower.
The dandelion bud above is just starting to spit off its outer leaves. This is the very largest bud you’d use to make capers. If you want the good stuff though, go deeper. Once you pluck off that primary bud, underneath there will be a number of pea-sized secondary buds that are even younger.
Dandelions don’t just produce one flower. Each plant produces many flowers over the course of the season, and even if you take all of these secondary buds, no worries, they’ll keep coming back.
Use your finger to pry these little buds out from the inside of the rosette. The primary bud came off easily, but these are deep down in there and take a bit more work. Once you have them out, all you need is roughly 100 more dandelions and you’ve got a batch of capers. Well, maybe not quite that many, but you get the idea.
Once I showed this handful of “secret dandelion buds” to my daughter she went to work. It’s like a scavenger hunt for a tiny kid, and my baby girl filled the jar in no time flat.
Now that you have the buds, it’s time to pickle them. Dandelion capers can be made two different ways.
Dandelion capers can be made just like homemade pickles, using a vinegar and salt brine. Using this method, they can be water bath canned for long-term preservation or just popped into the refrigerator for more immediate use.
This method of making dandelion capers uses salt and vinegar to create a pickle that can be canned for long-term preservation or stored in the refrigerator for a few months.
- 2 cups dandelion buds
- 2/3 cups vinegar
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 tsp salt
Bring the water, vinegar and salt to a boil and stir to dissolve the salt.
Pack the capers into mason jars, and pour the brine over the top.
Cap and store in the refrigerator or process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.
This brine recipe can be increased or decreased based on the amount of dandelion buds collected.
The traditional way of pickling, before canning and all that, involved just salt and water. The vegetables were lacto-fermented in this brine, in the same way that sauerkraut still is today. Instead of adding vinegar, the lactic acid bacteria produced their own acid to preserve the food.
To make fermented dandelion bud capers, all you need is a mason jar fermentation kit and a bit of salted water.
Lacto-Fermented Dandelion Capers
This version of dandelion capers uses a traditional lacto-fermentation technique and the end result is probiotic capers.
- 2 cups dandelion buds
- 1 cup water
- 2 tsp salt
Dissolve the salt in water and pour over the dandelion buds in a wide mouth mason jar.
Seal with a mason jar fermentation kit and ferment at room temperature for 7 to 10 days. Test them at this point, and if you'd like them more pickled, continue the fermentation for a few more days.
Once they're pickled to your liking, remove the fermentation kit and attach a standard lid. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months (possibly longer). They'll continue to slowly pickle further in the refrigerator, just keep them below the water line to keep them from spoiling.