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Nasturtium Capers: Episode 1

June 30, 2009
green nasturtium seeds, looking like small, green, three-lobed brains

nasturtium seeds, or little green three-lobed brains?

This weekend I got my hands on Sandor Katz‘s excellent Wild Fermentation. I read it through once and was pleased to discover it makes for fun reading, even considering that I generally enjoy flipping through cookbooks. I always had a suspicion of fermented foods growing up—sauerkraut was one of those things my parents could never get me to eat. But I loved crunchy refrigerator dill pickles. And when I tried some crunchy raw cultured sauerkraut recently and discovered in it all the things I loved about my favorites kosher dills, plus some reasonably substantiated health benefits, I thought I should give this fermented foods thing a fair trial.

That said, I don’t have an awful lot of confidence in my ability to do it right the first time, so I want to start with an easy and fairly foolproof recipe. Which, fortunately, SandorKraut’s recipes tend to be. Oh, sure, there’s rennet cheese and miso paste and other things that make me feel more than a bit intimidated, but SandorKraut is very good at reassuring the reader—mold? No problem! Scrape it off, it’ll probably still be good! Don’t like the way it tastes? No problem! Toss it and start over; you’ll get the hang of it! His enthusiasm is infectious. More infectious, I hope, than my first efforts will be.

Nasturtium capers caught my attention. I’m not a big fan of store bought capers; they’re just not very interesting. Briny. Sort of texturally appealing, but without much flavor of their own. For a local variation, Sandor recommends either milkweed seed pods or nasturtium seeds, picked while still young and green. I didn’t find milkweed seed pods very appealing. Isn’t that stuff poisonous or something? That’s why monarch caterpillars eat them, right… so they taste bitter and other critters learn to avoid them? But nasturtiums! I have quite a fondness for them; they spill everywhere in my neighborhood and most gardeners don’t even bother to eat their peppery leaves and flowers, which are great in salads and on sandwiches, or even to shred on top of a soup. I didn’t know the seed pods were useful, but they sound like they might make capers interesting to me. I resolved to keep my eye out for nasturtiums going to seed. Late summer, said my books; probably early August.

Well, no sooner had I thought “this might be nice to try” than I passed by a yard full of nasturtiums, blooms fading, and brainlike pods happily ready to become seed. And another. And another. It’s barely past the Northern Solstice! I walked home very slowly from work today, filling my pockets with little green pungent seed pods. I picked them only from yards that looked slightly neglected, where I can safely wager that the homeowners don’t worry enough to spray posions at their plants. (I also nabbed five tiny windfall plums, and investigated a late loquat, but it looked too mealy.)

I’ll pick more tomorrow, this time following Sandor’s advice to choose only the earliest, smallest pods. And then I’ll try the recipe and post about it here.

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