This week brings a return of some rain and winter, and after some tenuous work in the sunny field last week, we’re delighted to welcome the precipitation! This year, we’ve expanded our fields on the farm and added young new crops. Working in a new vegetable plot is a somewhat confusing experience that demands a ride down Crop Memory Lane to recall what’s it’s like to work with soil that is less fertile than the one we know after years of organic cultivation. The drainage in the new plots is still deceiving, and at times can suddenly wash away some of the soil. The plot is not pliable and ventilated all the way down, unlike those where we’ve added compost each season and inserted parts of plants to be composted at the end of the seasons over many years of organic farming.
Which is why in the new plots, the growth is not as uniform and successful as we are accustomed to in the veteran plots: in some places, vegetables grow vigorous and healthy in one part of the plot, while right next door everything is stuck, hardly budging at all. We keep reminding ourselves that new plots are like that, and we shouldn’t be concerned because in the end, time, compost and organic cultivation do their thing.
In the brassicas plot, this phenomenon causes our friendly cauliflowers to develop slowly, at different paces. When we made our rounds to determine the quantity of cauliflower we can pick this week, we discovered much lower numbers than expected. Fortunately, the network of organic farmers expands from year to year, allowing us to request a helping hand from our fellow farmers. This week, we bought beautiful fresh organic coral cauliflower to place in your boxes, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise: The slow-paced movement in our plots enabled us to send you one of the most beautiful, distinctive members of the prominent Brassica family. Here, just take a look at this beauty:
This special cauliflower has many names, all describing some unique aspect of the vegetable: sometimes its cauliflower, broccoli or cabbage; it can be Romanesco (a Roman-Italian cauliflower), Pyramid cauliflower, and in Hebrew – coral cauliflower (kruvit armonim). Despite the confusion in its moniker, this is cauliflower, not broccoli or cabbage. Its chartreuse color spawned the urban legend that this vegetable is a combination of broccoli and cauliflower. But this is not the case! These are all members of the same family, of course, but this one belongs to the cauliflower branch, whose formal name is Brassica oleracea var. Botrytis (meaning cluster/collection, as we will soon discuss).
Indeed, it was developed in Italy and first documented in the 16th century, hence Romanesco. The tiny inflorescence buds are laid out in miniscule pyramids creating one big pyramid, which to Israelis resembled coral (justifiably so).
Its fractal structure is pretty amazing. All cauliflowers and broccoli follow a meticulous pattern, in an actual mathematic algorithm (Fibonacci number). The clear cone structures look like they are climbing a spiral staircase on tiny cupolas, presenting a clear visual of this intricate pattern of beauty. If you take a close look at the tiny buds that make up the Romanesco, you’ll discover that they are an exact replica of the whole head – a miniature of itself. When you look even closer, you see that they, too, are comprised of a spiral pattern, each one a micro-copy of the full head. The pattern repeats itself and eventually terminates when the size is reduced to miniscule. This cauliflower must have an issue with eternity. This is the fractal – a geometric shape containing detailed structure at arbitrarily small (identical or similar) scales. Fractals are common in nature, appearing on other plants, animals and natural structures, (e.g., snowflakes, various shells, leaves, pinecones, and others).
The fractal structure of the cauliflower has been accurately described and mathematically analyzed, yet has remained a mystery – how does this come to happen? What botanical process allows the cauliflower to grow in such a way? A research crew led by two French scientists (Christophe Godin and Francois Parcy) has been exploring the subject for over a decade. They discovered a missing gene in this particular cauliflower, which prevents the buds from becoming flowers. The meristems (cell tissues that can develop into a stem/leaf/bud) attempt to turn into tiny flower buds. Upon failing, they develop a smaller identical twig/stem and then make a repeat attempt. Thus, the patterns we see are in fact drafts of these repetitive attempts, where instead of creating a flower, they produce tiny twigs organized in an amazing identical pattern (read more about it here).
As mentioned, the Romanesco was documented in Italy from the 16th century, but it has since conquered the rest of Europe. Attempts to grow the Romanesco here over a decade ago proved to be disappointing, uneven and not too exciting. Over the past few years, the Israeli company Hazera has acclimatized a French species to Israeli agriculture. The resulting Celio species is proving successful and making its stunning appearance in more and more Israeli markets and kitchens.
The Romanesco is not alone in its uniqueness among the cauliflowers. Though we are most familiar with the “common” white cauliflower, they actually come in a wide variety of colors, as viewed in this family picture of the cousins: purple, light green, orange (rich in beta carotene) and our beloved coral cauliflower:
Despite their different shapes and fluorescent colours, these cauliflowers are not genetically engineered to look this way, but rather they developed in the ancient traditional method of selecting plants from specific species and crossbreeding with others to reach the specific colorful specie. The creation of one can take years and even decades. The results are pretty amazing (and at times somewhat psychedelic).
Cauliflowers of all shapes and colors should be stored in the refrigerator, wrapped but not sealed in a plastic bag (the sulfur needs to escape, otherwise the cauliflower blackens), with the stem downwards and the inflorescence above, to prevent moisture accumulation. Stored correctly, cauliflowers can keep for two to three weeks, but are tastiest during the first several days. Afterwards, the sweetness subsides. As we said, the coral cauliflower is……cauliflower. It may look a little different, but it tastes like a cauliflower. There are those who say it’s milder and more nutty-tasting, but personally I must admit that it feels simply “cauliflower”…. Texture-wise, it’s more delicate than a regular cauliflower, thus its cooking or baking time is shorter. The coral’s nutritional values are that of the cauliflower: rich in vitamins (C, K, A, B), calcium, iron, folic acid and dietary fiber, full of the wonders that cauliflower and its family members possess.
May the coral cauliflower bring wonder, joy, a smile and…. a yummy delight!
Shavua tov from Alon, Bat-Ami, Orin and the entire Chubeza team
WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
For the past several weeks, the frigid cold has affected the growth of our cucumbers and tomatoes. They’re finally beginning to get back down to business: this week we succeeded in picking cucumbers from our field and purchasing from another organic grower to supplement the supply. Yet, there’s still not enough cucumbers to go around to every Chubeza box. We’ve also purchased sweet, delicious red bell peppers, and this week’s boxes will include peppers, while some of you will also get cucumbers. We hope for a speedy return to our regular ongoing cucumber supply.
Monday: Carrots/fennel/beets, cauliflower/Romanesco cauliflower, cabbage/sweet potatoes, leeks/fresh garlic, fresh onions, cucumbers/sweet red peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, garden or snow peas/fresh fava beans/kohlrabi, parsley/coriander/arugula. Small boxes only: Swiss chard/kale/spinach.
Large box, in addition: Potatoes, daikon/baby radishes/turnips, celery/celeriac/parsley root, broccoli/pumpkin/zucchini.
FRUIT BOXES: Red apples/pears/strawberries, avocados, clementinas, oranges/pomelit/lemons, bananas.
Wednesday: Daikon/baby radishes/fennel/kohlrabi/turnips, cauliflower/Romanesco cauliflower, cabbage/broccoli, fresh onions, cucumbers/sweet red peppers, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, parsley/coriander/arugula, celery/celeriac/parsley root, Fresh fava beans/garden or snow peas/pumpkin.
Large box, in addition: Potatoes/beets/sweet potatoes, Swiss chard/kale/spinach, leeks/fresh garlic.
FRUIT BOXES: Red apples/pears/strawberries, avocados, clementinas, oranges/pomelit, bananas/lemons.