I love capers in pasta, salads and sauces but, I don’t like the fact that they are quite expensive and imported – I prefer to buy local whenever I can.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention so I was very happy to come across this recipe for ‘false capers’ in a book of early Australian cooking that is over 150 years old. They don’t taste like capers – they taste like pickled nasturtium seeds, but they are surprisingly good and are a fantastic substitute.
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
Groundcover: As a colourful creeping, flowering carpet that gives a soft ‘cottage garden’ look. Nasturtium grows well in the sub-tropics and does best through the cooler months and in semi-shade. It prefers sandy soils, but is adaptable to most soil types – in fact, the poorer the soil the more flowers you get. Their vibrant, sunny colours make it a lovely cut flower.
Living Mulch: Useful as a ‘filler’ plant in tricky areas – like steep banks and around fruit trees to prevent weed invasion/erosion/drying out. Once you plant it, you never have to do so again as it seeds and re-grows freely but, it is not invasive and easy to pull out. Any plants in unwanted spots just go straight in the compost.
Food: Every part of this plant is edible!! Young leaves are used in salads and contain high amounts of Vitamin C (older leaves become too peppery) – I like to use them on sandwiches – they fit well. Flowers can be eaten whole or as an addition to a mesclun salad. An old gardener once told me that he ate a Nasturtium flower every day as a natural antibiotic. (He is the same one that told me that lavender oil kept ticks away – and he was right about that).
Companion Plant: Nasturtiums are a great plant to use around vegetables. The strong smell acts as a deterrent. As a decoy/sacrificial plant that will attract white fly and keep them away from your vegies. It also attracts hoverflies-one of those beneficial insects in the garden – this one gobbles up aphids.
A LITTLE STORY: I have eight grandchildren and bless the day that J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series – she is responsible for turning the older ones, and millions of other children on to reading. My lot often suddenly appear from the bushes in my garden, with cloaks flying and wands waving shouting Latin spells at each other. As their grandma is the resident garden witch, they naturally come to me for new spells. This is where the good old nasturtium comes in. As I have mentioned, its name come from the Latin nasus (nose) tortus (to twist) for the peppery smell that comes up when you tread on it – and a twisted nose is a fabulous spell to cast on anyone, don’t you think?