California Capers aka Pickled Nasturtium Seeds

August 6, 2020

My friend Shae is shutting down her blog, Hitchhiking to Heaven. Before she takes it offline, she offered up some of her old posts so that they can continue to live and be useful. The first time I met her in person, she gave me a jar of these California Capers.

This is my favorite kind of canning project — making something wonderful (and a little bit quirky) from a plant, bush, or tree that we live with every day.

Some people hold Nasturtiums in the same esteem as weeds. The stems and foliage brown to a scraggle by summer’s end. They’re prone to aphids in downright creepy numbers. And once they take hold, they reseed with a vengeance.

Lucky for us, I say! (Well, not about the aphids — but the other parts.)

First of all, the flowers deliver pure, pop-in-the-eye color, and you can eat them in your salads . . .

Nasturtium Flowers | Hitchhiking to Heaven

Second, after the flowers are done, when what’s left starts to turn ugly, look a little closer.

These seedpods are nothing but beautiful — and tasty, when properly prepared.

California Capers (Pickled Nasturtium Seeds) | Hitchhiking to Heaven

You can pick the plump green pods and turn them into “false capers.” Soaking the pods in brine for three days (changing the solution once a day) mellows out their peppery burn and turns them into an excellent caper substitute — or an intriguing snack. I opened a jar and somehow they disappeared from the fridge before we had a chance to cook with them.

California Capers (Pickled Nasturtium Seeds) | Hitchhiking to Heaven

This recipe, which I adapted from The Splendid Table, calls for a pint of pods, but you can modify it to use what you have. Remember to go for the green pods; the brown ones won’t taste good. They’ll become next year’s crop.

California Capers (Pickled Nasturtium Seeds)

1 pint green nasturtium pods
3 cups water (1 cup per day)
4 1/2 tablespoons pickling or kosher salt (1 1/2 tablespoons per day)
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
bay leaves (For a 1-pint jar, use 2 fresh leaves or 1 dried. For my quarter-pint jars, I picked one small bay leaf for each jar.)
fresh thyme (For a 1-pint jar, use 2 3-inch sprigs. For quarter-pint jars, I added a 1 1/2-inch sprig to each jar.)

Day One

Pick over the pods to remove any remaining stems or flower bits. Place the pods in a pint jar and cover them with a mixture of 1 cup water and 1 1/2 tablespoons pickling or kosher salt. Let them stand, uncovered at room temperature, for one day.

Day Two

Don’t be alarmed by the stinky sulfur smell coming from the pods. I don’t know what causes it, but it’s normal. Drain and rinse the pods and pick out any soggy bits of flowers left behind. Return the pods to the jar and cover them with a fresh mixture of water and salt. Let them stand for another day.

Day Three

Repeat the steps from day two.

Day Four

1. Drain and rinse the pods and put them into the jars you’ll use to keep them. I chose 4 quarter-pint jars so that I can easily give them as gifts.

2. Bring the vinegar, sugar, bay leaves, and thyme to a boil in a small pan. Pour the boiling vinegar mixture over the pods, distributing the bay leaves and sprigs of thyme among the jars.

3.  You may process your jars in a water-bath canner for 10 minutes if you like (leaving 1/2-inch head space), but it’s not necessary. If you don’t want to use the water bath, simply allow the vinegar mixture to cool, cover your jars, and store them in or out of the refrigerator — it doesn’t matter which. (Canning expert Linda Ziedrich says so! Scroll down to her post from October 15, 2009 to see how she handles her pods.) I water-bath canned my jars because I thought the tight seal would be better for packing them up and shipping them cross country.

Yields 4 quarter-pint jars.

California Capers (Pickled Nasturtium Seeds) | Hitchhiking to Heaven

This piece was originally published on Hitchhiking to Heaven on August 12, 2010 and was written by Shae Irving.

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5 thoughts on "California Capers aka Pickled Nasturtium Seeds"

  • I’ve eaten the blooms but never the seed pods. And I wish they’d go to seed at my house. I think my summers are too hot & dry for that to happen.

  • Jenny, have you tried pollinating them by hand with a cotton swab or small paintbrush? If they lack pollinators, that might do the trick. Although, it could be the heat; tomatoes won’t set fruit if it gets too hot because the pollen dies. Best wishes!

  • I thought I’d seen it all. Until I read this post. I eat capers right out of the jar. And I grow nasturtiums every year. Headed out to the garden to get seeds right now!

  • Is the only reason to soak the pods for three days is just to remove the peppery taste? We like the spicy pepperiness of nasturtiums (the peppery leaves are delicious in roast beef sandwiches). Can we omit the soaking if we want to retain the pepperiness?