In a classic segment of ‘River Cottage’ host Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall damns the cauliflower, describing it as insipid and boring.
Not fair. While caulis can devolve into tasteless watery mush when treated badly in the kitchen, the best varieties are packed with flavor.
In fact I reckon caulis such as ‘Purple Sicily’ are among the most elegant and delicious of the brassicas.
Describing cauliflower as insipid and boring is just unfair!
Cauliflowers are not the easiest vegetables to grow, but are well worth the effort. Timing is everything. The aim is to start the seeds in early autumn, grow the plants on as the weather cools, and harvest in winter, before warming spring weather causes the curd (head) to burst into flowers.
Rich soil is essential. I like to incorporate a bucketful of compost, a triple handful of pelletised chook manure and a double handful of rock dust per square metre of garden bed, forking it all lightly into the soil and watering deeply to activate worms and micro-organisms. If your pH tends to be a bit high, add lime or recycled wood ash a couple of weeks later. Caulis love a slightly alkaline soil.
Cauliflower curds are ready for the picking when they’re full and tight. Cut them free with a knife. Note that unlike broccoli, side shoots won’t form on cauli plants so once harvested, throw the residue on the compost or feed it to the chooks.
Looking after cauliflower
Caulis have a special need for the trace elements molybdenum and boron. To provide what they need water plants regularly with seaweed extract and a pinch of borax dissolved in a nine-litre watering can.
‘Snowball Improved’ - first-rate white cauli that reliably bears self-blanching curds, so there is no need to wrap the leaves over the head to keep it from discoloring in the sun.
‘Purple Sicily’ - Italian heirloom bearing massive purple heads. Easier to grow than standard white caulis.
‘Romanesco’ - Some people call it a broccoli, some call it a cauli. Whatever. I call it flipping delicious!