Winner of the James Beard/ KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year 2000 and Winner of the Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food 2000.
September 28, 2023
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Mangia Bene

Although capers are native to the Mediterranean, it is likely they were brought to Provence from Crete by the Phocaeans, Greeks from Asia Minor, who settled near Marseilles in the sixth century B.C. 

The caper plant was known as tapeneï in Provençal, and the flower buds, the part of the caper used for culinary purposes, was the tapeno, which were preserved in amphora filled with olive oil since vinegar was not used at that time. The capers became mushed together in the amphoras to form a kind of pâté of crushed tapeno, the ancestor of the modern tapenade. This is why it is today known by the word for caper rather than olives, which is actually, in volume, the greater constituent ingredient. In the second century A.D., vinegar came to be used more in preserving and so too garlic, the great universal medication in the medieval period when the Greek physician Galen's medical theories were prevalent.

C. Chanot-Bullier, the author of a regional cookbook of Provençal cuisine, Vieii receto du cousino prouvençalo (Old Recipes of Provençal Cuisines), divided the cuisine of Provence into four regions and placed tapenade in the third region, that of the Toulonnaise and Varoise (Toulounenco-Varesco ). This is the cuisine of the Côte d'Azur, the kingdom of coquillages, shellfish, eaten raw or cooked in fancy sauces. She includes tapenade, the famous paste of black olives, anchovies, tuna and capers, as being a part of this cuisine.

Tapenade is delightful on toast with a aperitif such as Pernod.  My colleague, fellow cookbook author David Lebovitz has an excellent article on tapenade you will enjoy.

[Photo: David Lebovitz]