Home Page

Stefan's Florilegium


This document is also available in: text or RTF formats.

capers-msg - 11/12/12


The use of capers in period foods. How they were preserved. What they are.


NOTE: See also the files: cook-flowers-msg, herbs-msg, herbs-cooking-msg, garlic-msg, p-herbals-msg, verjuice-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I  have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done  a limited amount  of  editing. Messages having to do  with separate topics  were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the  message IDs  were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make  no claims  as  to the accuracy  of  the information  given  by the individual authors.


Please respect the time  and  efforts of  those who have written  these messages. The copyright status  of these messages  is  unclear  at this time. If information  is  published  from  these  messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

   Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                         Stefan at florilegium.org



From: Philip & Susan Troy <troy  at asan.com>

Date: Wed, 07 May 1997 23:33:00 -0400

Subject: Re: SC - capers


Mark Harris wrote:

> So, are capers period? If so, how were they used? Were they dried or

> pickled or what? I think I've seen them in the store and I know I've

> eaten them once or twice but I really don't know much about them.


>   Stefan li Rous


I believe capers existed in period, but I don't know of any period

recipes calling for them.

Most often in the U.S. you will find them in jars packed in brine.

Generally in Europe they are dry-salted, also sold in jars when they

don't come out of a barrel.


They're another of those not-very-well documented Mediterranean coastal

foods, like olives and anchovies, and frequently  eaten together with

the other two Suspects...





From: Uduido  at aol.com

Date: Thu, 8 May 1997 09:31:13 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: Re: SC - capers


<< Has anyone ever seen or heard of fresh capers?  Do recipes ever call

for them? >>


In the 9 years that I have been cooking in the SCA I have personally never

seen, read, or came across reference to capers being used in any way, shape,

or form in period recipes, food descriptions or other culinary informatiion

from the period. As to the general question of "fresh" capers, since they are

flower buds, IMO, they would be far too fragile to market in fresh form. The

vendors loss from spoilage would far outweigh any gain.


Lord Ras



From: Philip & Susan Troy <troy  at asan.com>

Date: Thu, 08 May 1997 09:38:26 -0400

Subject: Re: SC - capers


Alys of Foxdale wrote:

> Has anyone ever seen or heard of fresh capers?  Do recipes ever call

> for them?


>    Alys of Foxdale          Shire of Stierbach, Kingdom of Atlantia


Up until yesterday, I would have said I couldn't recall any recipes

using capers at all. I now recall at least one late-period English

recipe that calls for them to be used, if I remember correctly, in a

wine/butter sauce for fish (flounder, I think). But these would have

been salted.


Still can't recall any references to fresh capers...





From: Gretchen M Beck <grm+  at andrew.cmu.edu>

Date: Thu,  8 May 1997 12:58:20 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: Re: SC - capers


Excerpts from internet.listserv.sca-cooks: 8-May-97 Re: SC - capers by

Philip & Susan Troy  at asan

> Up until yesterday, I would have said I couldn't recall any recipes

> using capers at all. I now recall at least one late-period English

> recipe that calls for them to be used, if I remember correctly, in a

> wine/butter sauce for fish (flounder, I think).


You see them more often in Southern Italian/Sicilian recipes; I believe

the plant is native to these regions.  Whether they were mentioned in

the period recipe books, I don't know.


toodles, margaret



Date: Thu, 21 Aug 1997 18:29:35 -0400

From: Philip & Susan Troy <troy  at asan.com>

Subject: Re: SC - When life gives you lemons, then what?


Stephanie Rudin wrote:

>      This makes me remember that I've been wondering if capers are period?

>      Does anyone know?


We went through this pretty exhaustively a few months ago here on this

list, and the general consensus was that they don't seem to appear in

the period recipe collections most of us are familiar with. I was able

to find a recipe for flounder which featured them in the sauce, but that

was a 17th century source, with what appear to be no prior references.


This is probably a geo-specific item, though, as the sources most of us

cited were generally English, and capers don't come from England. By

sheer coincidence, it so happens that yesterday I was looking through a

copy of the Tacuinum Sanitatis, the 14th century medical catalogue of

foods and other bodily influences, and found the following reference...


The Casanatense version of T.S., f. XLII, says:


"Nature: Warm in the third degree, dry in the second. Optimum: Those

which are tender and fresh. Usefulness: They reduce the quantity of the

urine. Dangers: They reduce the blood and the sperm. Neutralization of

the Dangers: With vinegar."





Date: Fri, 22 Aug 1997 14:13:00 GMT

From: zarlor  at acm.org (Lenny Zimmermann)

Subject: SC - Re: Capers


Stephanie Rudin wrote:

>      This makes me remember that I've been wondering if capers are period?

>      Does anyone know?


Platina (Venice, 1475), lists "De Conditura Capparis", translated by

Elizabeth Buermann Andrewsin 1967 as reading "On Preparing Capers"

Here is the test:


The caper is sown in dry places, surrounded by cleared, open space and

on all sides by banks, either made by nature or by artificial

stonework, so that the caper cannot run riot. It grows more stoutly

than a fruit tree; From it the stalk, along with the seed, is plucked

in abundance. Some kinds, especially the foreign varieties (as Pliny

says) are to be avoided. For the Arabic is harmful, and that from

Apulia, and make one vomit and violently move the stomach and the

bowels. Indeed now (as it seems to me) their nature is changed. For

the foreign is in demand, and especially that from Egypt, and the

Apulian is not bad. Some call the caper tree Cynosbaton, others

Nosbatum, and yet others Staphylen. Its force is dry and warm. They

say that those who use capers every day will not be in danger from

paralysis, nor pain in the abdomen or liver, because capers open the

passages of the vitals and those near the heart, and expel glutinous

humors and melancholy pressures from the spleen, move the bladder,

kill worms, excite the passions, and have the force of Tyriaca against

poisons. It is prepared in this way: Put it in a pan of water that is

hot but not boiling, and leave it there until it has lost most of its

saltiness. Then transfer it to cool water and leave it until it has

cooled off. Then put the capers into a dish, after wiping them dry and

pour a little oil and vinegar over them. There are those who add mint

to this food, and that is not disagreeable, because it makes for

pleasure and health.


I cannot remember off the top of my head any recipes using capers, but

I've only given this manuscript a complete read through once. So they

were at least known in the Veneto region of Italy in the late 15th

Century. (Any qualifications to the above statements I missed that I

should be pointing out?)


Honos Servio,

Lionardo Acquistapace, Barony of Bjornsborg, Ansteorra

(mka Lenny Zimmermann, San Antonio, TX)

zarlor at acm.org



Date: Fri, 22 Aug 1997 19:23:20 -0400

From: "Nick Sasso (fra niccolo)" <grizly  at mindspring.com>

Subject: SC - capers info and links


Capers are the pickled floral buds of the _Capparis spinosa_  plant, a

low, prickly, flowering bush.  They are found promarily in the

Mediterranean basin coasts, hence their commoness in Southern Italian,

Morrocan and other Regional cuisines.







you can find seeds to grow your own at



an herbal database of plant names to common names



fra niccolo difrancesco



Date: Fri, 22 Aug 1997 19:42:14 -0400

From: Philip & Susan Troy <troy  at asan.com>

Subject: Re: SC - capers


Marisa Herzog wrote:

> *what* are capers?  seeds? berries? pickled?  I have eaten them, and am not

> partial to them.  I know what they look like.  But what are the little

> critters?


They are the buds of a shrub related to the nasturtium. Sometimes actual

nasturtium buds are used as a substitute. Usually they are available in

jars, pickled in brine and/or vinegar in the U.S.A., and are more often

dry-salted in Europe, where they are usually available loose, by weight.





Date: Sun, 24 Aug 1997 22:48:28 -0700 (PDT)

From: rousseau  at scn.org (Anne-Marie Rousseau)

Subject: Re: SC - When life gives you lemons, then what?


Stephanie Rudin wrote:

>      This makes me remember that I've been wondering if capers are period?

>      Does anyone know?


Capers are used extensively in late/out of period stuff, mentioned in

compound salats and in _Aceteria_ (1699, super super out of period,

according to most).


The earliest reference I know of is in la Varenne (1651, French), who

uses them to jazz up the common medieval Sauce Robert. Yum! We had it for

dinner last night. Mustard, vinegar, capers, green onions and butter,

whisked till smooth. Taillevent and friends use it on fish, la Varenne

recommends it on boar and other meats.


Hope this helps!

- --Anne-Marie



Date: Mon, 25 Aug 1997 10:04:22 -0400

From: Philip & Susan Troy <troy  at asan.com>

Subject: SC - Sauce Robert...


You'll find an entry on capers in most versions of the Tacuinum

Sanitatis, a.k.a. The Medieval Health Handbook, a.k.a. The Four Seasons

at the House of Cerruti (these last two are titles for modern reprints

of various manuscript versions of Tacuinum Sanitatis).


Not to change the subject too much, but there are some excellent

resources for cooks and laborers, and people in general, looking for

garb ideas from the Mediterranean Basin of the fourteenth century, as

Tacuinum Sanitatis is really copiously illustrated. My World-Famous

White Medieval Chef's Cote is derived from one of the illustrations.


Adamantius, who ordinarily wouldn't be caught dead in garb from after

the eighth century or so.



Date: Thu, 24 Jun 1999 22:01:07 EDT

From: LrdRas  at aol.com

Subject: Re: SC - Capers


ca*per [1] (noun)


[back-formation from earlier capers (taken as a plural), from Middle English

caperis, from Latin capparis, from Greek kapparis]


First appeared 14th Century


1 : any of a genus (Capparis of the family Capparidaceae, the caper family)

of low prickly shrubs of the Mediterranean region; especially : one (C.

spinosa) cultivated for its buds


2 : one of the greenish flower buds or young berries of the caper pickled

and used as a seasoning or garnish


A srarting point.....:-)





Date: Thu, 24 Jun 1999 22:04:41 -0500

From: "Decker, Terry D." <TerryD  at Health.State.OK.US>

Subject: RE: SC - Capers


> Which brings up another question -- were capers used in our period?  I

> haven't seen them mentioned, which doesn't mean they're not...

> Renata


Via Root:

Capers are mentioned in the 16th Century in Olivier de Serres' Theatre of

Agriculture and the Family of the Fields.  Root suggests a Saharan origin

and places them as a spice known to the ancient Greeks, but a late arrival.

Introduced by the Greeks to France around 600 BC.  Known to the Romans as

far back as their written records reach.





Date: Mon, 28 Jun 1999 15:47:04 +0100

From: Christina Nevin <cnevin  at caci.co.uk>

Subject: SC - Capers


Yep, capers are mentioned in "The Four Seasons of the House of Cerruti".

Platina also discusses them. So I'd say you are on fairly safe ground. I

intend to serve them with the first course of a 1530s Venetian feast in





Lady Lucrezia-Isabella di Freccia   |  mka Tina Nevin

Thamesreach Shire, The Isles, Drachenwald | London, UK



Date: Tue, 29 Jun 1999 14:27:53 -0400

From: renfrow  at skylands.net (Cindy Renfrow)

Subject: SC - vermillion, was Re: SC- capers


Hello! Re: capers -- I just stumbled across this in "A Bagdad Cookery

Book" p. 22 (hope it's not a repeat):


"Here kamakh is of flowering tarragon,

Here capers grace a sauce vermilion..."


and on p. 23 it says "Eggs vermilioned after boiling"


How was this vermillioning done?  (My copy is very hard to read, & there is

no index.) Did they use kermes?  If so, is there a reference in this book

to kermes & how it is prepared?


Cindy Renfrow/Sincgiefu

renfrow at skylands.net



Date: Tue, 28 Aug 2001 15:03:41 -0700 (PDT)

From: Huette von Ahrens <ahrenshav  at yahoo.com>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Capers caper

To: sca-cooks  at ansteorra.org


--- Susan Fox-Davis <selene  at earthlink.net> wrote:

> From what plant do the buds which become capers

> grow?  I don't like capers much either, but it may

> be how they are prepared, so I'd like to try my hand

> at pickling them at home and see if that helps.

> Selene in Caid


Here's some information for you.




Common Names


English: caper, caperberry, caperbush

French: c=E2prier, c=E2pres, fabagelle, tapana

German: kapper, Kapernstrauch

Italian: cappero, capperone (fruit)

Spanish: alcaparro,caparra; alcaparr=97n (berries)

Portuguese: alcaparra

Dutch: kappertjes

Russian: kapersy

Hungarian: kapricserje

Swedish: kapris

Finnish: kapris

Estonian: torkav, kappar

Egyptian: lussef

Bengali: kabra

Hindi: kiari, kobra

Punjabi: kabarra


Scientific Names

Species: Capparis spinosa L. (syn. Capparis rupestris)


also Capparis ovata Desf.

Family: Capparidaceae (or Capparaceae)


Culinary Uses


Capers of commerce are immature flower buds which have

been pickled in vinegar or preserved in granular salt.

Semi-mature fruits (caperberries) and young shoots

with small leaves may also be pickled for use as a



Capers have a sharp piquant flavor and add pungency, a

peculiar aroma and saltiness to comestibles such as

pasta sauces, pizza, fish, meats and salads. The

flavor of caper may be described as being similar to

that of mustard and black pepper. In fact, the caper

strong flavor comes from mustard oil: methyl

isothiocyanate (released from glucocapparin molecules)

arising from crushed plant tissues.


Capers make an important contribution to the pantheon

of classic Mediterranean flavors that include: olives,

rucola (argula, or garden rocket), anchovies and



Tender young shoots including immature small leaves

may also be eaten as a vegetable, or pickled. More

rarely, mature and semi-mature fruits are eaten as a

cooked vegetable. Additionally, ash from burned caper

roots has been used as a source of salt.


Medicinal Uses


Capers are said to reduce flatulence and to be

anti-rheumatic in effect. In ayurvedeic medicine

capers (Capers==Himsra) are recorded as hepatic

stimulants and protectors, improving liver function.

Capers have reported uses for arteriosclerosis, as diuretics,

kidney disinfectants, vermifuges and tonics. Infusions

and decoctions from caper root bark have been

traditionally used for dropsy, anemia, arthritis and

gout. Capers contain considerable amounts of the

anti-oxidant bioflavinoid rutin.


Caper extracts and pulps have been used in cosmetics,

but there has been reported contact dermatitis and

sensitivity from their use.




There is a strong association between the caperbush

and oceans and seas. Capparis spinosa is said to be

native to the Mediterranean basin, but its range

stretches from the Atlantic coasts of the Canary

Islands and Morocco to the Black Sea to the Crimea and

Armenia, and eastward to the Caspian Sea and into

Iran. Capers probably originated from dry regions in west or

central Asia. Known and used for millennia, capers

were mentioned by Dioscorides as being a marketable

product of the ancient Greeks. Capers are also

mentioned by the Roman scholar, Pliny the Elder.



Date: Tue, 28 Aug 2001 22:11:51 -0400

From: "Philip W. Troy & Susan Troy" <troy  at asan.com>

To: sca-cooks  at ansteorra.org

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Capers caper


Nicolas Steenhout wrote:

>> How would you describe the taste of capers since I haven't had a caper

>> before

> They are somewhat salty and vinegary.  Capers in and off themselves tend to

> take in the taste of the "juice" they've been put in to marinade


Some capers are dry-cured, basically packed in salt, and they usually need to be rinsed and/or soaked before use, unless you like them really salty. Some are pickled in brine, which develops a slight lactic fermentation, and an accompanying slight sourness as with half-sour pickles. Regardless, all the capers I've ever encountered have a slight mustardy flavor in addition to the herbal perfume and the salt.





Date: Tue, 28 Aug 2001 11:40:50 -0500

To: sca-cooks  at ansteorra.org

From: Nicolas Steenhout <vavroom  at bmee.net>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Capers caper


>How would you describe the taste of capers since I haven't had a caper



They are somewhat salty and vinegary.  Capers in and off themselves tend to

take in the taste of the "juice" they've been put in to marinade


Muiredach mac Loloig

Rokkehealden Shire



Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2001 11:49:08 -0500 (CDT)

From: "Pixel, Queen of Cats" <pixel  at hundred-acre-wood.com>

To: sca-cooks  at ansteorra.org

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Capers caper


Some more info on the caper bush, growing it, pickling the buds:



It's a very pretty bush, although apparently it has vicious thorns, and is

hard to grow (although the author says that some parts of Florida and

California might be the right climate).


Me, I'll buy mine in the little jars.


Margaret FitzWilliam



Date: Thu, 23 Aug 2007 12:49:33 -0400

From: "Saint Phlip" <phlip at 99main.com>

Subject: [Sca-cooks] Capers

To: "Cooks within the SCA" <sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org>


This came across a mundane List I'm on, and I thought it might be of

interest to newer cooks.




Capers are the pickled flower buds of a thorny, trailing shrub that

grows like a weed all over the Mediterranean. It's a stubborn, ornery

plant, difficult to cultivate, with a preference for dry, stony

places. You'll find it growing from rocky cracks and crevices and

climbing stone walls.


When raw, capers are insipid things. Fortunately, it was discovered

thousands of years ago that pickling transforms capers, lending them a

salty-sour pungency and unique aroma that have won the caper an

important place at the Mediterranean table.


The quality of capers is inversely related to their size; the smaller,

the better. The best, sold as nonpareilles or surfines, have an extra

intensity and cost to match.


During harvest, special care must be taken to pick the buds early in

the day before they have a chance to bloom. (Blooming gives you a

beautiful white and violet-colored flower but no caper.) If you let

the flower fruit, you end up with a berry the size of a small olive.


These berries, called caperberries, also need to be cured in brine and

are best treated like cornichons or any other pickle. You'll often

find them on antipasti plates.


Bottled capers will keep indefinitely as long as they are submerged in

their own brine. So take care to leave the brine behind when spooning

capers from their jar. If they're not submerged, use them faster, and

don't top off the jar with vinegar - it'll make them spoil faster.


Source: The Food Network


Saint Phlip



Date: Thu, 23 Aug 2007 16:07:40 -0600

From: Georgia Foster <jo_foster81 at hotmail.com>

Subject: [Sca-cooks] caper berry bush

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org>


With the idea that someone may want to plant their own caper plants


here is a seed source.


http://www.sandmountainherbs.com/caper_bush.htmlJo (Georgia L.)  



Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2007 09:00:09 -0400

From: devra at aol.com

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] capers

To: sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org


> There's some talk of a caper shortage?  Should we plant caperberry

> bushes and pickle our own?


I read somewhere (no, I don't remember where) that nastursium buds  

can be used in lieu of capers (and I assume pickled the same way.)  

Well, they are pretty peppery on their own...





Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2007 16:38:49 -0400 (EDT)

From: Christiane <christianetrue at earthlink.net>

Subject: [Sca-cooks] More about capers ...

To: sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org


Here's a good little article about capers from Best of Sicily  

magazine online:



Generally, the writers for this are pretty accurate.



Date: Sun, 31 Jul 2011 20:21:45 -0300

From: Suey <lordhunt at gmail.com>

To: sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org

Subject: [Sca-cooks] extracting capers from the jar


Have you spent all your life trying to get capers out of that skinny jar

without loosing all the liquid?

I have.

I just came across Chef Remy Morales on internet who speaks Spanish with

a thick gringo accent. He says to use a vegetable peeler, the elongated

one - about 2"!





From: Shannon Wanty <dragonfish.dance at gmail.com>

Subject: Capers

Date: November 12, 2012 3:22:16 AM CST

To: Stefan li Rous <StefanliRous at austin.rr.com>


Hey Stefan


I was just browsing through the Florilegium and came across the article on Capers. General consensus from the late 1990s through to about 2001 appears to have been that they don't show up in period cookbooks. I'd just like to rectify that - they do actually appear in at least one period Italian cookbook of the 16th century.


Off the top of my head, Scappi's extant menus commonly refer to a salad made of capers being served as part of the first credenza course; sometimes they are served with borage flowers, more commonly with raisins, sugar, and rose vinegar. The salad is measured by volume, with approximately one of Scappi's pounds being allowed per five-six diners.


They also show up scattered over meat dishes - veal, prosciutto, and capons - and sometimes over fish. As a dressing, they often show up in accompaniment with either rose vinegar or lemon juice, sometimes with raisins and/or slices of lemon or citron (but you never find lemon juice and sliced lemons/citrons dressing a dish together), and nearly always with sugar - after all, these are 16th century Italian dishes we're talking about.


I haven't finished analysing all of the menus, or all of their sections yet, and I can't remember about the other 16th century Italians off the top of my head, but at some point I'll get around to checking Messisbugo and Romoli as well and will update you then. I'll also let you know when I've finished my menu analysis, as I think it's something you may be interested in for your website. :-)




<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org