Pantelleria Caper

Ark of taste
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Pantelleria Caper

Perennial bush likely to have tropical origines, the caper is widespread in the Mediterranean area since immemorial times: references to its use, both as a drug and as a food, can be found in the Bible, and in writings of Hippocrates, Aristoteles and Pliny the Elder. In Italy, the surface cultivated with capers is about 1,000 hectares distributed through Liguria, Apulia, Campania and the Italian islands. Pantelleria is an island off the southern Sicilian shores and became renowned as one of the highest quality caper producers; capers are a part of the landscape and, until the advent of tourism, have been the economic engine of the island.The most popular variety is Tondina (or Nocellara), preferred to Spinosa because it yields firmer, heavier capers. Harvest takes place from the end of May through the end of August, every 8 to 10 days. Caper pickers start working at 5 in the morning in order to avoid the hot summer sun. Capers are laid and dry on jute sheets, in a cool pace so that they do not blossom. After a few hours capers are separated from the so-called capperoni, the biggest buds looking like they are going to blossom soon. Then they are salted by putting them in alternate layers with coarse-grained sea salt either in drums (called ‘cugnetti’) also used for anchovies, or in ‘tinedde’, made by cutting a barrel in halves. During the following four to five days, capers need to be ‘cured’, that is pouring them from tinedda to tinedda so that they are not spoilt by the combined action of salt and heat produced by fermentation. After about one month, they are ready for consumption.Up till the beginning of the Eighties, Pantelleria’s total caper production was around 1,200,000 kg, but now it does not even reach 200,000. The reasons of such a drop are vary: the strong competitiveness of northern African products, the impossibility to mechanise their cultivation, the high labour costs and the appearance of new, before unknown pests. Pantelleria capers stand out because of their firmness, perfume and uniformity. The former is actually their most important feature: a firm bud is in fact a guarantee of preservation (Pantelleria capers preserved in salt can be stored for up to two-three years).Used in many Sicilian dishes as flavour enhancers, capers match excellently with a simple tomato and persil sauce, the classic ‘caponata’ (an aubergine dish consisting of a cooked vegetable salad made from chopped fried eggplant and celery seasoned with sweetened vinegar, with capers in a sweet and sour sauce) and fish preparations.

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Territory

StateItaly
Region

Sicily