The caper (Capparis spinosa) is a shrub that grows in arid areas of the Mediterranean and, to a lesser extent, in the semi-arid inland areas of Iberia. It is a prickly, deciduous, perennial shrub, which makes the exclusively manual harvesting difficult. It grows spontaneously on arid, stony, limestone and clay soils, and is not always easy to cultivate. In the municipality of Ballobar, situated in the autonomous community of Aragon, fetching capers is a traditional activity. It probably began with the Muslim occupation and made this village – at the edge of the Europe’s largest desert, the Monegros – well-known. It is said that these capers were given to the Russian Czar in exchange for caviar.
Since the 1980s harvesting of capers for commercial purposes has stopped due to competition from intensively cultivated capers grown in Andalusia and North Africa, and only survives for self-consumption.
Recently their distinctive characteristics have made these wild capers, which grow a long way from the Mediterranean, sought after once again.
They are a unique product which is closely linked to the local area: the shrubs grow wild only in stony south-facing ground in a very limited area around the village.
The bud of the Ballobar caper (alcaparra) is gathered before flowering together with the fruit (alcaparron); they are both preserved in brine and are a high class gastronomic product with distinctive tenderness and fragrance.
At present there are two people, members of the Association of Ecological Producers of Monegros, who are working to recover and extend knowledge of this product. They are assisted by around twenty women from the town who, from dawn to dusk in the months June to September, are involved in the demanding work of gathering buds and fruit from these prickly bushes.
Beside this, efforts will be made to help producers find effective ways of domesticating and cultivating capers, which has not been possible so far. The Presidium producers will also have to gradually assume responsibility for filling the product into jars and commercializing it. The Presidium finally aims to promote the capers as a high class Spanish gastronomic product, enhancing its growing reputation. To describe this unique plant, efforts are being made to set up a museum dedicated to the Ballobar capers.
Promoting Ballobar capers means giving some pride to the village and developing valuable alternative types of economic activity, being the traditional agriculture difficult to maintain in such an arid area.
Ballobar, Huesca Province, Aragon Region