Something I’ve really enjoyed in the garden this summer is seeing how certain plants I introduced last year have self-seeded and landscaped themselves around the edges of the beds. There’s been a flurry of ‘pop-up’s in the sunniest gravelled areas: verbena bonariensis, nigella, pansies, thyme, sage, the odd self-sufficient tomato…
I had also cleared quite a bit of grass away from the edges of my raised beds over the winter, by laying down black membrane for a few months, and I’ve monitored what’s appeared. I’ve tried to keep on top of opportunistic weeds and returning grass but have let certain self-seeders remain. This wasn’t particularly planned… I just didn’t get round to deciding how to utilise those cleared spaces. Instead, nature has moved in and is deciding things for me. Under strict supervision, of course. The Agastache in particular.
This year I introduced some nasturtiums around the garden. The intention was to use the flowers in salads, but their leaves have also been good decoys for cabbage White Butterflies. There have been so many white butterflies this year that I think the nasturtiums have actually attracted more into the garden and acted as a nursery for all their caterpillars.
But never mind! With my brassicas well netted I’ve relaxed and enjoyed the trailing nasturtiums too. It’s been interesting to see where they’ve flourished, where they look great and where they don’t. As they will easily self-seed, I’ve been collecting their seed pods to better plan next year. But there are lots more seed than I’ll need.
There was a bit of banter on Twitter earlier in August about using nasturtium seed pods as an alternative to capers. So, although a bit sceptical, I thought I’d have a go with my excess seeds.
Real capers are actually the unopened flower buds of the caper plant, not the seeds (although these can be pickled too); a Mediterranean speciality often used to accompany fish. I thought about having a go at growing a caper plant of my own, but discovered they are difficult to germinate, preferring hot dry climates, and would really demand a greenhouse to survive a British summer let alone a winter. I concluded they are a bit tricky, so something for an ‘advanced’ gardener, I feel.
Nothing could be easier, however, than growing nasturtiums or collecting their seed pods. For the pickling you do have to use young, unblemished pods, so I collected only green ones for this purpose, detached fresh from the stems: not old, fallen, discoloured ones. I did a bit of online research for a recipe, and then cobbled together a simple pickling liquor with what I had in the larder. I’m not sure they’ll store that well in my version, so I’m keeping them in the fridge and will eat, or discard, after a couple of months.
I put my seed pods in a small, sterilised jar and covered them with a mix of white wine vinegar, two teaspoons of sugar, and a teaspoon of salt. I added a sprig of fennel leaves, a bay leaf and a small pice of dried chilli to cheer up what looked like a gruesome collection of small brains. I swirled it around until the sugar and salt dissolved and then left for a months before trying.
And do mock-capers taste like real capers? Well, yes they do a bit… But are hotter (the added chilli, perhaps?), fragrant, peppery, crunchier, and really rather good in their own right. I tried some in a salad to accompany smoked salmon, and the flavour was very complimentary. If you like pickles then these are definitely worth a try.
Have you ever tried pickling nasturtium seed pods, or eaten their fiery flowers? What’s your verdict?