Palo verde flowers are edible – but better yet, so are the flower buds. They are not so tasty straight off the tree, so it’s best to cure or pickle them first.
Technically speaking, capers are the preserved unopened flower buds of the caper bush (Capparis spinosa). You can grow this spiny Mediterranean native bush in our region, but why bother when we have our own Southwestern spiny plants to harvest flower buds from?!
Palo Verde Buds
There are two ways to cure/pickle your palo verde buds. One, you can brine them in a vinegar and salt brine, or two – you can lacto-ferment them.
Vinegar & Salt Brine Pickling
To make the brine, combine equal parts white wine or apple cider vinegar and water. Add 1 tablespoon of non-iodized salt per cup of liquid. While this does sound like a lot of salt, it helps preserve the buds. If you decide later that it is too salty, you can soak the buds in water before using them to reduce the saltiness.
In a 1 cup canning jar, place your tablespoon of salt. Fill the jar only ¾ of the way with your palo verde buds – they will expand! Put in ½ cup vinegar. Top with filtered water.
Put the cap on and gently (!) bang the jar on the counter a few times. This will help drive air bubbles up to the surface. You may need to add more liquid.
Store the jar in the refrigerator. And try to remember to shake well once or twice a day for the first week. The buds will be ready to use in about a fortnight, but will be even better if you can bring yourself to wait a full month before sampling.
For long term storage of these pickled flower buds outside the refridgerator, you can water-bath can your pickled buds. Leave ½ inch head space and process half-pint jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes at sea level. Adjust the canning time if you live at a high altitude.
Fermentation Method for Palo Verde Buds
To lacto-ferment palo verde buds, dissolve 1 tablespoon kosher or other non-iodized salt in a pint of filtered or non-chlorinated water. Most municipal tap water is chlorinated to destroy bacteria, but for lacto-fermentation you are counting on beneficial probiotic bacteria to ferment the food.
Put the buds in a clean glass jar and cover them with the salt and water brine. Loosely cover the jar with cheese cloth to keep the six legged critters out but allow the fermentation bacteria in. Leave the jar out on the counter at room temperature. Place a small plate under it to catch the overflow that may occur as the buds ferment.
Leave the jar of buds in salt water out at room temperature for 3 days. By this time they should start to have the lightly sour but clean smell typical of a young fermentation – think sauerkraut. Transfer the jar of buds to the refrigerator, and wait at least 2 weeks before sampling. This is so the flavor becomes fully developed.
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More cooking and using Southwestern native plants in Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today (Tierra del Sol Institute Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies at no additional cost to you.
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