thoughts on cauliflower

Granted, pretty much every member of the family smells. I don’t hold it against them though. They’re good at heart.

I consider the Brassica family dear friends, so I won’t quibble with little things like VO (vegetable odor). Cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi…I’m happy whenever I sit down to dinner with them. But over time, the meals I look forward to most are with the white-headed stepchild, cauliflower.

It takes a little bit of experience to know how to treat a cauliflower. Slightly more finicky than the other family members. And here’s where I run out of hilarious family-centric allusions.

Cauliflower likes its soil on the alkaline side. It likes a dose of nitrogen (like manured soil or fish emulsion), and doesn’t necessarily like scorching weather (but can often do well in it if watered and mulched faithfully). Cool and moist are better than hot and dry (surprise).

I keep cauliflower leaves protected from cabbage loopers by religiously spraying them with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis).
It’s a bacteria that messes with the little stinkers’ guts, and it only affects leaf-chewing caterpillars. I apply it religiously after a rain, after watering or after spraying with worm tea. It really works, period.

cauliflower plant

The challenge of cauliflower that isn’t presented by its family members is getting that beautiful snowy crown.

The first part of the challenge is keeping the crown white rather than yellow. It’s not especially complicated. When the little heads are about the size of a doorknob, take a couple of feet of garden twine and tie up the leaves around the head. That blocks out light and blanches the head.

Poke around into that green cocoon frequently over the next couple of weeks, keeping an eye on the head. This is the tricky part, the quiz that I flunk so often. I want the head to get just a little bigger, and that can ruin a good thing.

As cauliflower moves past its prime, the florets begin to open up and the cauliflower turns bitey. Don’t be greedy. Pick it before that happens. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the timing can be explained. It needs to be lived a few times.

Here’s a head that went just a little too long. It was still really good eating, but I kicked myself for not picking it a couple of days sooner.

cauliflower head

This head could have been picked a couple of days earlier

There are so many ways my wife cooks cauliflower that I love. They all smell ferociously. One of the best is a whole head sprinkled with some kind of stuff (maybe paprika?) and baked in foil in the oven. Steamed plain or covered with melted cheese. And it’s just fantastic mashed like potatoes. It’s very hard to tell the difference between the two, but there is a little tweak of new flavor there. And cream of cauliflower soup…wow. I even like it raw.

I used to plant cauliflower later, for fall maturing, but it works just as well to put the seedlings in with the other brassicas in the spring. That’s what I’ve done for many years. They really will tolerate a surprising amount of heat if they’re treated well.

Cauliflower comes from a good family. Treat it with respect and you’ll have a friend for life.


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