The Slow Food Caper of Salina
The ‘Festa del Cappero in Fiore’
is held every year on the first Sunday of June on the enchanting square of Sant’Onofrio in Pollara, a small village on the island of Salina.
Facing a breathtaking view from the square, visitors from all over the world flock to Pollara every year to participate in the caper celebrations. For the occasion, many local volunteers cook caper-based dishes. This is a special opportunity to taste the delicious Salina capers.
"It smartly matches its wild nature and untamed spirit with a relaxed and friendly atmosphere offering a dashing bit of otherworldly hospitality."
Origin of the Salina Caper
Salina is blessed with a particular microclimate. The combination of heat and salt prevented the cultivation of the vine and as such left room for the great protagonist of the island: the Slow Food Presidia Salina Caper, to thrive.
In Italy, capers are grown in the regions of Liguria, Puglia, Campania and some of the islands, including Sicily and Pantelleria. But the most prized capers are produced on the island of Salina, part of the Aeolian group off the northern Sicilian coast.
Salina is its second largest island. Here capers are celebrated as a Slow Food presidium.
Slow Food Presidia
The Presidia sustain quality production at risk of extinction, protect unique regions and ecosystems, recover traditional processing methods, safeguard native breeds and local plant varieties.
The first of the 6 current caper manufacturing companies on the island were established in the 1980s . It explains why this centuries-old delicacy has only recently become the driving force of the island’s economy.
Economic & Social Challenges
Before tourism, the production of capers was the driving force of the island’s economy. But in recent years, production has dwindled, due to competition from North African capers, a lack of mechanization which yields lower quantities, a high cost of labor (capers are still picked by hand here) and sometimes the appearance of new parasites. Which is too bad, because Salina capers are considered among the best.
Characteristics of the Salina capers
In Salina, the caper is an integral part of the landscape: it is a perennial shrub of probably tropical origins that exists in many varieties, the most valuable of which is called Nocellara. 90% of the harvest of the “Nocellara” variety of the entire archipelago is concentrated on Salina.
Salina capers have the characteristic of being particularly compact, which brings great benefits in terms of conservation, but also uniform and fragrant. In addition to their intrinsic characteristics, however, what distinguishes them from others is the processing with which they are treated and salted.
The Salina caper is also one of the few types of caper in the world that can carry the fruit and the flowers at the same time.
Shortage of Manual Labor
The harvest of capers in Salina represents a truly “heroic” job in the true sense of the word, to the point that production companies are unable to find new workers, not even young ones.
"The manual harvesting of the Salina caper is a very tiring activity that takes place from mid-May to the end of July. One has to get up in the morning at 4.30 and work bent on the knees until the evening. Now there are only a few middle-aged ladies left to pick them up. The problem with young people is that they spend a day or two and then give up ".
The lack of workers makes it almost senseless to think of increasing the island’s production,
A real shame because the Slow Food presidium has favored the relaunch of the sector and the knowledge of the three distinctive characteristics of the product:
Thus, in the name of defending the island’s traditions, a Consortium for the protection of the Salina Caper was also established, which currently includes five producer members and five processing companies.
Besides of the lack of manpower, the other problem is on a phytosanitary level. For several years, the Salina capers are threatened by a fly that stings the fruit and leads them to rot “
The Festa del Cappero in Fiore
For the Italian “slow food” enthusiasts the wild caper symbolises all they most cherish in quality ingredients:
it is organic it is a local speciality and it is best eaten in season and enjoyed in situ
The hour-and-a-half pilgrimage by boat from Sicily adds to the appeal for the slow foodies and the fact that Salina produces the best capers in the world clinches the excuse for a celebration.
Naturally, the “slow food” festivities cannot be hurried so for three days leading up to the main event
– La Festa del Cappero in Fiore (caper flower party) –
there are wine tastings, degustation dinners and even a boat tour around the island in pursuit of other locally produced goodies.
Each of these events is open to visitors and together provide the perfect way to get an authentic and concentrated taste of the greenest of the Aeolian Islands.
The Potato Salad Recipe
“This is the island’s main dish: when they have the caper festival in the first week of June, they make tons of this salad.”
It’s a very simple recipe, but it’s perfect for highlighting how good Salina capers are. You have to make sure to remove their salt very well, leaving them to soak for a whole day even. Then you boil the potatoes and mix them with a some raw onion and a little bit of chili pepper if you like, some cherry tomatoes and wild fennel.
It’s seasoned with extra-virgin olive oil and salt, and then aromas are added with basil or other herbs.
Another version of this salad is prepared only with capers, cherry tomatoes, garlic and mint. Both are also good with cucunci, the fruits of the caper. During the harvest, the largest buds flower are left. They then produce their fruits, which are also put under salt just like the capers.
Where to Buy Salina Capers
Should you wish to buy Salina capers, check first in your local deli. But now with Covid that might not be an option. Then no need to worry. You can easily shop for them here:
- Directly from the producers SAPORI EOLIANI
- on Amazon
The problem with buying capers on Amazon is that the exact origin of the capers is not very clear.
When shopping for Salina capers, know this:
The capers are selected in different sizes: small, medium and large.
Before the use desalt the capers soaking them in water. The water must be about twice the amount of the product to be desalted. Change often the water (at least 3/4 times) and taste the product before the use. Choose the product size for your own use:
If you want to garnish a dish, you can choose the small capers. They are beautiful and their taste is very delicate.
If you want to prepare a sauce or to stuff a fish, you can choose the medium capers. You can choose the large capers to prepare a salad or to prepare a paté.
The Next Edition of the "Festa del Cappero in Fiore " will be held on Sunday June 6th 2021 This is an independently written story and the opinions are my own. The technical guidance on how to run an affiliate website comes from Wealthy Affiliates and I might get a commission if you buy through certain links.