A green wicker basket
A flower that’s white
A slice of bread with salt
That’s what we’ve got
Won’t you join us…
- Naomi Shemer (translated noncommittally by A. Raz-Melzer)
These days, when our hearts beat with longing to see all the kidnapped and all our soldiers return home safely, this song describing the open door and the simple meal awaiting at home, takes on a new meaning.
Chubeza boxes over the past weeks have been graced by white flowers which may be difficult for you to recognize as flowers, but that’s precisely what they are: a very dense tuber of flower buds that have not yet bloomed. You know them well as a head of 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 period 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 did not occur as part of a budgeted, constructed research, but rather thanks 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 over another had a tremendous impact 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 crops that accumulated over time, yielding genuine results.
Cauliflower and broccoli owe their lives to the farmers (or perhaps instead to their wives and children who were growing bored with cabbage pie) who developed a craving for the undeveloped flower buds of the cabbage. They chose the plants that produced large flower heads, producing seeds from these plants which they planted the following season. And this is how cauliflower and broccoli were born, both different variations of an undeveloped cabbage floret. 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 a type of inflorescence composed of densely-clustered flower buds and stalks that thickened and became meaty. As the cauliflower grows, this “scalp” is surrounded by a dense circle of leaves that close themselves and cover it, similar to cabbage. The inner leaves bend slightly inward, protecting the developing cauliflower and preventing sunrays from penetrating, thus blocking the production of chlorophyll and maintaining 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 outer leaves with a rubber band to cover the cauliflower and protect it from the sun.
Unlike broccoli, which develops additional heads on its side after the main head is harvested, cauliflower produces only one head, at the plant’s center, and ceases to continue to yield after this single harvest. Usually, the cauliflower is harvested when it reaches its maximum size, still maintaining its compactness and firmness (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. Here’s a cauliflower that grew and turned into a bouquet of flowers:
Around a decade ago when I featured the cauliflower in our Newsletter, I received an email from Eitan of Tel Aviv, who raises cauliflowers in his small plot in the community garden, allowing them to grow for two years. The first year, he picks the cauliflower head but leaves the plant to yield another crop – even in the second year. “The cauliflower grown during the second year is indeed smaller, but it still tastes sweet (as usual). The advantage is that the second-year growth yields a number of cauliflowers: branches emerge from the lower part of the plant, resembling cauliflower seedlings from a nursery, from which an inflorescence develops. Since I have a small garden, the cauliflowers were watered during summer, but did not bloom. I even spread a 50% shade net across them, but there was no movement whatsoever from the cauliflowers. I thus recommend to anyone with enough garden space to leave the cauliflower and broccoli to grow a second year, as these plants are biennial. Even last year’s broccoli keeps producing quite lovely “baby broccoli,” identical to this season’s plant.”
So, for the gardeners among you, try this at home (in your garden). Keep the cauliflowers for 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 soil with nitrogen. Following a crop of cauliflower and other Brassicaceaes, we try to grow only crops that require less nitrogen and can cope well with soil that must recover from the previous high level of nitrogen consumption. The gourd family (pumpkins) that grows in springtime and summer, following 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 also 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 winter. The autumn and winter cauliflowers yielded beautiful plants, whereas the February harvests onward struggled bravely, were attacked by pests, became blotched, and didn’t really thrive. On the other hand, we learned to bring up the first crop planting to August, and since then we switched to planting cauliflowers continuously from August to December. In August, we plant varieties which do well in the heat, and from September we plant winter species.
As a member of the cruciferous family, cauliflower is packed with cancer-fighting components (along with its relatives the green and purple cabbage, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, arugula, chervil, watercress, 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 boosts the level of certain unique protective enzymes in the body which act as “policemen” that capture the cancer-causing elements, sending them into the bloodstream to be washed out of the body. These enzymes are also excellent antioxidants, and unlike regular antioxidants, they do not degrade as they work.
The indole compound in cauliflower and its fellow cruciferous family members protects against breast cancer by influencing the estrogen hormone (although in certain forms, this hormone can actually encourage the development of breast cancer). Yet, on one hand the indole compound activates the production of less-active estrogen, which does not encourage the development of breast cancer, while on the other hand it reduces the production of a more harmful estrogen form. To reduce the threat of cancer, it is recommended to consume at least 2-3 weekly servings of cruciferous vegetables.
In addition to the phytochemicals it shares with its powerful family members, cauliflower contains other phytochemicals such as phytosterols and glucaric acids which contribute to reducing 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 recommended daily dose of Vitamin C!
The cruciferous family – the cabbage, cauliflower and their cousins- has another unique connection to cancer prevention that once again indicates why nature is so much more complex than simplified classifications of “good” “bad” “beneficial” and “harmful.” The fight against cancer is precisely related to one of the family’s most famous pests: the “cabbage butterfly.” The female butterfly lays her eggs on the cruciferous plants, from which hungry caterpillars hatch and feed on the leaves of this honorable family. The larvae also swallow very pungent substances found in the leaves (mustard glycosides) which they isolate in their bodies. As the larva grows, it uses this substance as a defense mechanism: if attacked by a predator insect, the caterpillar secretes concentrated glycosides which cause an irritation in the mouth, esophagus and stomach of the attacker. When it pupates, the cabbage butterfly defends itself via an interesting toxin: pierisin. This toxin destroys cells by breaking their DNA. All the cells die and regenerate themselves, except for cancerous cells. Research has indicated that pierisin caused nine types of cancerous cells to “commit suicide.” Thus indirectly, by hosting the caterpillar that tortures it and eats its leaves, the martyred cruciferous (indeed crucifixes…) family plays an important role in battling cancer.
The cauliflower we know and love is white, and I told you how much effort we invest into keeping it bright and shiny. But cauliflower also comes in varieties sporting such diverse colors as purple, light green, orange (rich in beta carotene) and a weird-looking green variety (on the top right) resembling an Escher creation or a UFO:
Despite their different shapes and florescent hues, these cauliflower varieties are not genetically engineered. They were developed via the ancient, traditional method of selecting plants of certain varieties and crossing them with plants of other varieties until a very special colorful one evolves. Creations of such a strain can take years, even decades. The result is amazing and new (even sorta’ psychedelic….).
Cauliflowers (of any shape and color) should be stored in the refrigerator, wrapped in an unsealed plastic bag (the sulfur needs to escape, otherwise the cauliflower is tainted and rots), with the stem downwards and head above, to prevent moisture accumulation. Stored correctly, cauliflowers can keep for a week or two, but are at their tastiest during the first several days. Afterwards the sweetness subsides.
Wishing you a good wintery week with plentiful rains, and only good news.
Alon, Bat-Ami, Dror, Orin and the Chubeza team
WHAT’S JOINING THE CAULIFLOWER IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
Monday: Fresh onions, beets/bell peppers/carrots, lettuce, daikon/ kohlrabi/fennel/turnips, spinach/tatsoi/arugula/Swiss chard/kale, potatoes, broccoli, parsley/coriander, tomatoes, cucumbers, cauliflower.
Large box, in addition: Celery/celeriac/parsley root/leeks, cabbage/slice of pumpkin/sweet potatoes, fava beans/peas/Jerusalem artichokes.
FRUIT BOXES: Oranges/grapefruits/pomelit, avocados, red apples, clementinas.
Wednesday: Celery/celeriac/parsley root/leeks, fresh onions, lettuce, spinach/tatsoi/arugula/Swiss chard/kale, potatoes, broccoli/slice of pumpkin, parsley/coriander, tomatoes, cucumbers, cauliflower, fava beans/peas/Jerusalem artichokes.
Large box, in addition: Cabbage/sweet potatoes, beets/carrots/daikon/small radish, kohlrabi/fennel.
FRUIT BOXES: Oranges, avocados, red apples, clementinas.