Well, I had to do it. It’s the first year here on Waiheke that I have let the nasturtiums run rampant. I had been thinking about doing nasturtium pesto but I got side-tracked with the buds. I last pickled a bunch of buds back in 1984. True. Even George Orwell couldn’t have predicted that Julia might do that. But there you go.
They taste like capers, people say, because they just quote what other people write about them. They probably haven’t tasted them. Capers are complex, floral, herbaceous and when pickled in brine, they’re sea-salt briny, tangy and metallic. Intriguing. Nasturtium buds, like all parts of the plant, are in your face, weirdly giving off a weedy-greenleaf crushed bug ‘don’t come near me’ type of aroma, as sour as sorrel, acidic like oxalic, unwelcoming, a colourful bunch of flowers and leaves you leave outdoors in a jamjar rather than bring inside to put in a vase.
Sure, they are peppery to taste, but it is all much of a sameness, kind of like biting into a giant radish that you wish you hadn’t because you can’t possibly eat any more of it without turning green. And like watercress, a little is good, fun and peppy but a great big mouthful is too much, too peppery, too mustardy, too sour, that’ll have you seeking out the vomitorium.
Yes, there’s a trick. You want young leaves, pale green, not large deep green jobbies, and just-opened flowers. The flowers are less aggressive, sweet spicy to start, then spicy to end. Quite nice. But you don’t want a salad of them, just a few here and there, and only eat the petals, don’t expect your guests to gobble up the whole flower with all its middle and end bits, unless you are all very hungry.
So to the buds. They are not capers. They don’t taste like capers but they can be used like capers. Harvest them after any dew has evaporated and before the sun gets on them. Then the difficult job of preparing them begins. HaHa! Wash them, dry them off on paper towels and put them in a clean glass jar. Pour pickling brine over them and refrigerate for 4 weeks before using. It takes all of 10 minutes.
1 cup white wine vinegar – something cheap, this is not the place for expensive chardonnay vinegar!
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbsp chopped shallot
1 clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp coriander seeds
1 small dried chilli
Put all the ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Boil for 1 minute. Cool. Put caper buds in a jar, pour over pickling brine, cover with a non-metallic lid and refrigerate for one month before using. Homemade pickled buds. I’ll let you know how they go!