The thorny caper (Capparis spinosa) is a shrub that grows in the arid areas of the Mediterranean and, to a lesser extent, in the semi-arid areas of the Iberian interior. It is a perennial, deciduous and thorny plant: harvesting is very difficult and can be exclusively manual. It grows spontaneously on arid, stony and calcareous soils and its cultivation is not always easy.
In the municipality of Ballobar, located in the autonomous community of Aragon, the harvesting of capers is an ancient tradition, probably started with the Muslim occupation, which determined the notoriety of this village at the gates of the Monegros desert, the largest desert in Europe.
It is said that these capers crossed the Spanish borders and were delivered to the Russian czars in exchange for caviar.
Since the 1980s, harvesting for commercial purposes has stopped: competition from the buds of Andalusia and North Africa, where intensive cultivation systems are widespread, has prevailed over those of Ballobar. The harvesting of these hook-shaped thorny capers could only survive as a domestic practice.
Recently, because of their particularity, these capers, wild and far from the Mediterranean, have been sought after again. It is a unique production closely linked to this territory: the plants grow spontaneously only on stony, south-facing soils within a very short radius of kilometers around the city.
Both the bud (harvested before flowering) and the fruit (caper) are preserved in brine and become an excellent gastronomic product, characterized by a particular tenderness and fragrance.
Currently two people, members of the Association of Organic Producers of Monegros, are working to recover and spread the knowledge of this product. With them, about twenty women from the village are engaged every year, from June to September, from dawn until the sun permits, in the arduous task of harvesting the buds and fruits of these thorny and difficult to access plants.
The Presidium has several objective:
Promoting the capers of Ballobar means making the village proud and developing valuable alternative economic activity, traditional agriculture being difficult to maintain in such an arid area.
Ballobar, Provincia de Huesca, Región de Aragón