A green wicker basket A flower that’s white Red wine A slice of bread with salt That’s what we’ve got Won’t you join us…
Naomi Shemer (translated noncommittedly by A. Raz-Melzer)
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the amazing cauliflower:
Her name indicates familial relations: the flower of cabbage (Caulis in Latin), and rightfully so. Apparently, cauliflower was developed from the wild cabbage during the Roman Empire somewhere in the Mediterranean Basin (Greece/Italy/Turkey–it is unclear exactly where). From there it traveled to European countries, the Middle East, India and China. When I say “developed,” I mean developed by human beings, almost like a modern agricultural start-up, only much, much slower. Some of the most incredible changes in the field of species development didn’t occur as part of a budgeted, constructed research, but rather due to the very simple act of collecting and saving seeds from the plants favored by the farmer and preferring them over seeds from lesser-loved plants. This simple act of propagating one plant and not another had a tremendous influence on the improvement and evolution of a given specie or crop. Long before wo/man understood the genetics of plants, his/her actions generated slow, small changes in the cultivars that accumulated with time, yielding genuine results.
The cauliflower and broccoli owe their lives to the farmers (or perhaps the farmers’ wives and children who were growing bored with cabbage quiche) who developed a craving for the undeveloped flower buds of the cabbage. They chose the plants that produced large blossom heads, producing seeds from these plants which they then planted the next season. And this was how cauliflower and broccoli were born, both different variations of an embryonic florescence of cabbage. The proper name of the cauliflower is var. botrytis, meaning “cluster” – due to its resemblance to a cluster of grapes. (Broccoli, developed in Italy, received the title var. italica).
In the case of cauliflower, like broccoli, we actually eat the immature flower curd composed of densely-clustered flower buds and stalks that thickened and became meaty. As the cauliflower grows, this head is surrounded by a dense circle of leaves that close themselves and cover it, similar to cabbage. The inner leaves bend a bit inward, protecting the developing cauliflower and preventing sunrays from penetrating, thus blocking the production of chlorophyll and retaining its white color. This is why when we farmers select a variety of cauliflower, we give preference to choosing one whose leaves close well over the inflorescence. Sometimes, when the farmer notices that the leaves are not doing their job, he or she walks through the field and ties the outward leaves with a rubber band so that they cover the cauliflower and protect it from the sun.
Unlike broccoli, which develops additional heads on its side after the main head is harvested, the cauliflower produces only one, in the center of the plant, and does not continue to yield after this single harvest. Usually the cauliflower is picked when it reaches its maximum size, still maintaining its density and solidity (or when we notice the leaves beginning to open, threatening cauliflower “sunburn”). If we leave it in the field, the inflorescence will begin opening and separating, preparing for the blossoming of tiny yellow flowers, like a great big bouquet.
When I wrote about the cauliflower several years ago, I received an email from Eitan of Tel Aviv: “I beg to differ over one thing. I have been raising cauliflowers for two years in a row. I did not pull out last year’s plants, and sure enough, they bloomed this year as well. In addition, the cauliflower produced many branches that yielded a nice crop of cauliflowers. I pick the heads, but do not pull out the plant.”
Eitan’s words reminded me that I did indeed read about the cauliflower’s ability to yield two years in a row if it is not uprooted, but because I was not experienced with this (as farmers, it is not recommended to leave vegetables for the next year because this usually diminishes crop size), I asked Eitan for full details on the second-year cauliflowers. This was his response: “The cauliflower is smaller in the second year, but still tastes sweet. The advantage is that in the second year, a bunch of cauliflowers emerge. Branches extend from the bottom part of the plant, looking like cauliflower transplants from the nursery, and the inflorescence starts there. Since I have a small garden, the cauliflowers were watered over summer but did not bloom, although I covered them with a 50% shade net. In any case, there was no evident change in the cauliflower over the summer. I recommend that whoever has enough space should leave the cauliflower and broccoli to grow a second year. These plants are bi-annuals. By the way, the broccoli, too, remained from last year, and it continues to supply me with very handsome “baby broccolis.”
So, for the farmers among you, try this at home (in your garden). Keep the cauliflowers growing a second year, protect them in summer from radiation and heat, and tell us how this works. Thank you, Eitan!
Like the rest of her Brassicaceaes family, the cauliflower consumes a great deal of nitrogen. For this reason, it’s important to grow cauliflowers in fertile soil, fortified with compost, and precede its planting with the growth of legumes or “green manure” that enrich the ground with nitrogen. Following a crop of cauliflower and other Brassicaceaes, we try to grow only cultivars that require less nitrogen and can deal well with the earth that must recover from the previous high level of nitrogen consumption. The gourd family (pumpkins) that grows in springtime and summertime, after the Brassicaceaes season, is a good example of a “crop rotation” after the Brassicaceaes.
Cauliflower grows in cool seasons. In Chubeza’s first years, we planted it at the end of wintertime/beginning of springtime (February- April), but after some experimenting, we realized the cauliflower is happiest in our field during wintertime. The autumn and winter cauliflowers yielded beautiful plants, whereas the February harvests had a hard time growing, became too hard, were attacked by insects, got blotched with stains and didn’t really thrive. On the other hand, we learned to bring up the first crop planting to August, and since then we have begun planting cauliflowers continuously from August to December. In August, we plant species that do well in the heat and from September we plant winter species.
As a member of the Cruciferae family, cauliflower is packed with cancer-fighting components (as are its relatives the green and purple cabbage, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, arugula, rashad, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, turnips, and radishes). The primary anti-cancer elements they contain are sulforaphane and an indole compound.
Interestingly, sulforaphane is produced in the vegetables only when they are cut or bitten into, i.e., when an animal consumes them. Sulforaphane is an efficient antioxidant, but it also raises the level of certain protective enzymes in the body which act as “policemen” that capture the cancer-causing elements and send them into the bloodstream to be washed out of the body. These enzymes are also excellent antioxidants, and unlike regular antioxidants, they are not consumed while they work.
The indole compound in cauliflower and its fellow Cruciferae family members protects against breast cancer by influencing the estrogen hormone, although in various forms this hormone can actually encourage the development of breast cancer. Yet, on the one hand the indole compound activates the production of less active estrogen, the kind that does not encourage breast cancer, while on the other hand it reduces the production of a more harmful estrogen type. In order to reduce the threat of cancer, it is recommended to consume at least 2-3 weekly servings of vegetables from the Cruciferae family.
In addition to the photochemicals it shares with its powerful family, the cauliflower contains other photochemicals such as phytosterols and glucaric acids that contribute to the reduction of cholesterol levels in the blood. Another cholesterol fighter comes from the dietary fibers so rich in the cauliflower, which aid digestion and prevent constipation as well as slowing down the absorption of sugar and cholesterol from food. Of course, we cannot forget the venerable Vitamin C! One hundred grams of cooked cauliflower contain half of the daily-recommended portion of vitamin C.
The Cruciferae family has another connection to cancer prevention, one that is unique because it once again indicates why nature is so much more complex than simplified classifications of “good” “bad” “useful” and “harmful.” A perfect example is one of the family’s most famous pests: the cabbage butterfly. The female butterfly lays her eggs on the Cruciferae plants, and hungry caterpillars feed from the leaves of this prevalent family. They also swallow very spicy matter found in the leaves (mustard glycocids) and isolate it in their bodies. When the caterpillar grows, it uses this matter as a defense mechanism: if attacked by a predator insect, the caterpillar secretes concentrated glycocids which cause an irritation in the mouth, esophagus and stomach of the attacker. When it is pupated, the cabbage butterfly defends itself using an interesting toxin: pierison. This toxin destroys cells by breaking their DNA. All the cells die and renew themselves, except for cancerous cells. Research has indicated that pierison caused nine types of cancerous cells to “commit suicide.” Thus indirectly, by hosting the caterpillar that tortures it and eats its leaves, the martyred Cruciferae family takes an important role in battling cancer.
The cauliflower we know and love is white, and I told you how much effort we put into keeping it that way. But there are also cauliflowers that come in such diverse colors as purple, light green, orange (rich in beta carotene) and a weird-looking green variety bearing a resemblance to an Escher piece or a UFO:
Despite their different shapes and florescent colors, these cauliflower varieties are not the product of genetic engineering. They were developed in the traditional method of selecting plants of various types and crossing them with plants of other types until a colorful one evolves. Creation of this kind of species usually takes years, even decades. The result is amazing, even somewhat psychedelic.
It is recommended to store (any type or color of) cauliflower in the refrigerator, wrapped in an unsealed plastic bag (the sulphur needs to escape, otherwise the cauliflower is tainted and rots), with the stem downwards in order to prevent moisture accumulation on the inflorescence. Stored correctly, cauliflowers can keep for two to three weeks, but are tastiest during the first several days. Afterwards the sweetness subsides.
Wishing you a wintery week (may it arrive soon, already!!), with hopes for pattering rain coming our way soon….
Alon, Bat Ami, Dror and the Chubeza team
WHAT’S JOINING THE CAULIFLOWER IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
Monday: Butternut squash/corn, baby radishes/daikon/turnips/fennel/ beets, parsley/dill, Swiss chard/kale/New Zealand spinach, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, onions/red bell peppers/eggplant, long Thai lubia beans/okra/ Jerusalem artichokes/green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, kohlrabi.
Large box, in addition: Celery/scallions/leeks, totsoi/arugula, cabbage/ slice of pumpkin
FRUIT BOXES: Green or red apples, bananas, avocados, carambola, oranges/clementinas.
Wednesday: Onions/corn, baby radishes/daikon/fennel, kohlrabi/beets, parsley/dill/arugula, Swiss chard/kale, cauliflower, red sweet peppers/hot peppers/sweet potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers. Small boxes only: Celery/scallions/leeks
Large box, in addition: Long Thai lubia beans/Jerusalem artichokes/green beans, totsoi/New Zealand spinach, cabbage, slice of pumpkin
FRUIT BOXES: Green apples, bananas, avocados, carambola, oranges/clementinas/pomelit.