The first time I ever consumed capers was at a restaurant that has since closed. It was a small shack-like place that fooled you from the outside, located in rural eastern South Carolina. I recall railroad tracks and a beat-up building. Crossing the threshold was like stumbling into a place found in one of those chic magazines, where shabby met quality and it all somehow worked – the ladder back chairs that squeaked, thick crème-colored linens, scratched wood floor, and heavy unmatched silverware.
Being a preacher’s family, we often ate out, but at other people’s homes, not at restaurants. How we ended up here was by a recommendation and by the fact that my mother, whom I sometimes address as Queen Helene (and love dearly), relishes the finer things and places in life. She knew this would be a hit, and it was. Even for a naïve and timid child like myself. I cannot remember my specific meal, only the capers. Maybe it was chicken saltimbocca. Maybe it was veal. Doesn’t matter. What mattered was that there was an actual (and perfect) shell (I took it home) on my plate with the food and these little gray, round things I kept chasing with my fork and eating as if my they were the substance I’d been missing from my diet for my entire brief life. What were they? I asked the chef and his wife when they came over to our table to inquire as to our dining experience. Capers, he said. What’s a caper? I wanted to know.
Pickled flower buds.
Who knew a flower bud could be pickled, eaten, and so incredibly satisfying? That night was such a luxury that I abstained from buying capers for years. At that age, I didn’t even cook for myself and had no idea I could even purchase them (if I had known, I may have participated in creating the grocery list). I wrongly thought capers were a luxury that only restaurant owners had access to.
Why is it when we experience something amazing, we want to put some distance to it? It is as if the experience we remember (although altered whether we admit it or not), will be ruined by re-enacting it again. We know if we try to re-live the experience, it will never meet the sublime of the first time. I think this is why I have not bought capers until recently, at least 25 years since that exquisite dining experience. I have a similar, rather odd, personal issue that relates to all this: if I leave a room full of people after saying adios, I do not wish to return. In fact, if I’ve left something or find I need to walk through that same room again for some reason (such as reaching the actual EXIT), I DON’T WANT TO. I feel as if I’m jinxing something, as if I’m in some movie and now I’m going to screw it up when I replay my scene. Why is this? From where does this oddity arise? (Bigger question: how do I replay such need for control in my life in other ways?) I think my issue has to do with the unrealistic need for perfection. Having to walk back through a room I’ve said goodbye to means I’ve messed up. My ending wasn’t clean. It means I have to admit some type of minor “failure,” if failure even works in this scenario. Maybe I should just start walking into a room and saying Goodbye! instead of Hello! Maybe all this means I need to let go of the need for control, and be okay laughing (wildly, but not too loudly) at my foibles. Hell, maybe I should be excited that the walk back through the room may glean a connection I would have missed otherwise.
There’s also this little fact: I’ve bought my second jar of capers in one week. Oh how I love to crunch those little salty buds, to lick the brine off the tines of the tiny fork with which I scoop up these delicious buds. Guess what? I’ve not tired of them. The luxury of eating them has not altered at all. Nor has the additional meaning of caper escaped me. I’m up for a capricious escapade. Are you?