I have seen cauliflower described as ‘a wimp's broccoli’. When I was growing up it was always served covered by a ‘white sauce’ and of course it is frequently paired with cheese sauce. Frankly, anything can be made to taste good when covered with cheese sauce! But cauliflower can be the star of your dinner if you bother to look in the spice cupboard for some tantalizing Indian flavours to put the sizzle in this lowly vegetable.
History of‘Brassica oleracea var. botrytis’
The oldest record of cauliflower dates back to the 6th century B.C. Pliny wrote about it in the 2nd century after Christ.
In the 12th century three varieties were described in Spain as introductions from Syria, where it had doubtless been grown for more than a thousand years and it was mentioned as growing in Turkey and Egypt by European writers who had visited those places in the 16th century. In England in 1586 cauliflower was referred to as "Cyprus coleworts," suggesting that it must have been brought from the island of Cyprus. For some time thereafter, Cyprus was mentioned as the source of seed for planting in England. Cauliflower appeared on the London vegetable markets as early as 1619 and we also have evidence of it being grown in France, where Louis XIV was said to be fond of it, around 1600 and it came to the US in the same century, together with the variety we know as broccoli. The name ‘cauliflower’ comes from the French term, ‘cabbage flower’ (choufleur). This sounded too much like "shoe flower" in English to be marketable, and ‘cole flower’ or ‘cauliflower’ was adopted instead.
There are dozens of types of cauliflower with variations from the plain white through gold, orange and purple (all natural mutants, not genetically altered by man) and the recent arrival known as ‘Amfora’ which has a striking floret shape and bright green color. The flavor is pretty much the same in all varieties but the orange and gold are especially rich in Vitamin A.
Cauliflower, like the other cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage and kale contain compounds that may help prevent cancer. These compounds appear to stop enzymes from activating cancer-causing agents in the body, and they increase the activity of enzymes that disable and eliminate carcinogens.
A curiosity is the growth pattern of the florets in the curious mathematical series known as the ‘Fibonacci numbers’ – similar to what we observe in pine cones, the center of flowers like Sunflowers, and some varieties of succulents.
Generally cauliflower and broccoli require cool temperatures with moist air to grow. However, its history indicates that there used to be varieties that are much more heat-tolerant, and indeed it is still a staple in Indian cooking.
Cauliflower is one of the fussiest crops, with annoyingly tricky timing to make sure the heads (or ‘curds’) develop at the right time for maturity. If the young plants are exposed to below 50°or other stressful conditions for any length of time during their growing stage, they can be subject to something called ‘buttoning’ which prevents them from forming the edible heads. At the same time, they do need to develop a certain number
of leaves before they can form curds, and if the temperatures go too high during their formative weeks the curds will be non-existent or of poor quality.
The sensitivity, difficulty of culture, and relatively high price of the cauliflowers have made them the true aristocrats of the cabbage family.
In general, cauliflower does not freeze well. Freezing it will preserve its flavor, but tends to severely break down its texture. Still, frozen cauliflower may be useful in some recipes- especially those using puree.
The milky sweet, nutty flavor of cauliflower is at its best in the winter months.
Cauliflower can be roasted, boiled, fried, steamed or eaten raw. When cooking, the outer leaves and thick stalks are removed, leaving only the florets. If you want to minimize the typical cabbage cooking odor, retain the vegetable's crisp texture, and reduce nutrient loss, cook the cauliflower for only a short time.Abandon the ubiquitous cheese sauce and try some of the exotic recipes using cauliflower that abound on the web.
Dutch by birth but widely travelled since my late teens. Married for 27 years with a son in college, and living in sunny Southwest Florida, I now call myself 'semi-retired' so that I can justify spending all waking hours in the pursuit of growing blooming tropical plants, most specifically Plumeria.