Capers, a Biblical bud and Panzanella

I always enjoy chatting with Matt Swaim on the Sonrise Morning Show, Sacred Heart Radio about Bible foods and herbs. Today the subject was capers.


Capers are mentioned in Ecclesiastes 12:5. “When one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and DESIRE FAILS.”

The flower buds of the caper bush were called “Desire Shall Fail” because eating them weakened the appetite and held off hunger until the main course could be eaten. Some scholars believe the passage refers to old age, when supposedly even capers won’t help the appetite.

Flower buds of caper bush.

The caper bush is an interesting bush – it originated in the Mediterranean region and likes to grow on walls and rocky coasts. It’s still found growing between the huge stones of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

.How are they used today? Do we eat them fresh?

I’ve never had a fresh caper, only a preserved/pickled/brined caper.  Most recipes call for preserved capers. They range in size from very tiny to larger. The smaller ones are supposed to be the best.

What’s the flavor like?Sort of salty and slightly pickled, You should rinse and drain them before use.

How do you store capers?

Once they’re opened, in the frig where they should last a long time since they are a preserved item.
Is there a substitute for capers?

Yes, and it’s a common garden flower/herb: the nasturtium. Pickled nasturtium seed pod buds make a great substitute for capers. Actually, the whole flower is edible and both the leaves and flowers have a peppery flavor.  Pickled nastutium buds are called “poor man’s capers”.


 Ingredients salad

Italian bread chunks, lightly toasted in olive oil in skillet or oven – about 1/2 pound

1/2 medium red onion, sliced

2 nice tomatoes, chunked

1-2 tablespoons capers, drained

1 bell pepper, chunked

1 cucumber, diced

Mixed salad greens – optional but good a handful or as much as you like
Ingredients Basil cumin dressing

1 clove garlic

3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

2/3 cup olive oil

White balsamic vinegar to taste – start with 1/4 cup or regular balsamic

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup fresh basil, minced or go to taste on dried basil – start with 1 teaspoon

Mix salad ingredients together. Put dressing ingredients in blender or processor. Blend until smooth.Pour over salad and toss gently.


From Ina Garten, adapted only slightly


3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes 1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1- inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced
20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped (I usually put in a couple good shakes of dried basil during the winter)
3 tablespoons capers, drained 

For the vinaigrette: 

1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons Champagne, white wine or regular white vinegar
1/2 cup good olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste


Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over 

low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed. 

For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together. 

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend 

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