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Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Fine Caper

Summer is already here and it's the turn of the caper to flower. I love seeing it growing out of the Old City walls as I walk along the ramparts. Best known for its edible flower buds (capers), often used as a seasoning, and the fruit (caper berries), both of which are usually consumed pickled.  Other parts of Capparis plants are used in the manufacture of medicines and cosmetics.
 
The most common species of caper in the Jerusalem area, and throughout the Mediterranean region of Israel, is the common caper (Capparis spinosa). In the desert, it is replaced by the Egyptian caper (Capparis  aegyptia).  Because of finely curved thorns they can only be picked by hand and as such are considered a delicacy.

Capers are a distinctive ingredient in Italian cuisine and are commonly used in salads,  meat dishes and pasta sauces. Capers are known for being one of the ingredients of tartar sauce. They are often served with cold smoked salmon or fish dishes.
 
The leaves of the caper are round and drop off in the winter. The beautiful flowers have four white petals and masses of stamens. The flowers give off an exquisite fragrance at night and in the early morning, wilting as the morning heats up. They open in the evening to attract moths, which enjoy nectar that is held in a pocket right in the middle of the flower. The two lower petals are attached to one another and to the nectary, creating this pocket and preventing small insects from stealing the nectar. After the flower has been fertilized, a long fruit develops.

The preparation of capers for food was already well-known in ancient times. A caper collector was known in Hebrew as a 'kapar'. Indeed, this word appears on the lintel of the entrance to an ancient synagogue in modern-day Katzrin. The inscription says:  "This is the house of study of Elazar the kapar."

On a final note, the caper – which reappears, flowers, and provides food every year, without any care - has been used as a metaphor for the Jewish people's determination to survive in the harshest of conditions.  Perhaps it's no coincidence that they are found growing out of the Western Wall!