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I write crime novels. Ain’t done a crime caper yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Mind you, capers do make the occasional appearance in my books. The caper things you eat, I mean, because my Moss Reid character is a hungry PI.

People either love or hate capers, or think they’re vastly overrated.

Nobody really likes capers no matter what you do with them. Some people pretend to like capers, but the truth is that any dish that tastes good with capers in it, tastes even better with capers not in it.”
– The late great Nora Ephron in her novel “Heartburn

So do your tastes change as you get older, or do they have to be acquired, learned, nurtured along the way?

a-jar-of-capersUnlike Nora Ephron, I feel I’ve finally “got” capers. The saltiness, the quirky almost musty undertones, their marvellous little taste-bomb quality as they zing away in a dish.

When did this love of capers begin? I’m not sure.

Maybe it crept up on me around the same time as I began a long affair with cheese (pongy ripe Camembert, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, strong goat’s cheeses with a crust of hairy mold) and became infatuated with liver, kidneys, caramelised onions, sweet roasted garlic. And don’t get me started about oysters.

Capers would have been an exotic rarity in my formative years. I can’t remember much about them.

But bear in mind that in many respects Ireland was a culinary disaster until the end of the last century. It’s not so long ago that you’d have to buy olive oil in the chemists – and it was far from panini and blinis that we were reared.

Half lives

Hold on. Wasn’t there a small jar of capers in the back of the fridge in a friend’s flat in Harold’s Cross back in 1994?

(“Flats”, plural noun: what we used to call apartments back then, before we got notions)

Was the jar ever taken out? Possibly. But there it stayed at the back of the fridge, alongside the pickled beetroot – in paint stripper rather than a mellow vinegar – and gherkins and Heinz Salad Cream and half a bottle of Blue Nun and various substances that were being preserved for penicillin and secret biological experiments.

Was there such a thing as a Shelf Life back then? Or Best Before dates or Use By dates? Probably not, because that jar of capers was immortal. That jar was like Fame – the TV series (“I’m gonna live for ever, I’m gonna learn how to fly” etc etc).

That jar didn’t have a Shelf Life, more like a Half Life, something similar to carbon-14. No wonder the occasional capers that were brought out for party food back then tasted of ganky manky bilge-pumps.

Nowadays I treat them with a lot more loving and respect.

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