Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Beautiful Broccoli

When then-President George W. Bush announced to the world he didn't like broccoli there was a huge uproar.  In the name of political correctness a figure such as the prez of the US should never ever put down something that everybody knows is so darn good for us. You know.  Set a good example.

But now I can relate.

I bought broccoli, certified organic at that, from Fortinos a week or so back and wondered where all the flavour went.  The interior of the stems was nearly pure white, and the whole eating experience left me feeling a bit....well...pukey, as my 80 year old neighbour Lizzy would say.

Sad, because broccoli is one of my favourite veetables.

I've been eating my own broccoli since May or so and this December wake up call is going to make me stick with the other brassicas I have in storage, namely cabbage and kohlrabi and my precious stash of kale in the freezer.  Growing your own broccoli makes all the difference in the world.  And it's not that mine is the best in the world.  Yours will be too if you grow your own.

I've spent some time talking about other brassicas, such as kales and cabbages.  Broccoli, like them, is also a member of the mustard family.  I find it fascinating to consider that all these plants descended from  one wild mustard plant...variations on a theme if you will and selected for their unique qualities.
Up until about 65 years ago, broccoli and cauliflower were both considered essentially interchangeable and both called cauliflower.   The broccoli identity had yet to emerge.

A comic in The New Yorker in the 1940's had fun with this identity confusion.  A small boy and his mother were sitting at the dinner table, and the mother says "It's broccoli dear".  "I say it's spinach" the boy replies " and I say the hell with it!"  (Was this in fact a young GWB??)

Broccoli proper has been around for a very long time and the well known variety Calabrese was grown in Italian gardens in the first century BC.  It made it's way to France and England, but didn't enjoy popularity early on as cabbage and cauliflower were much preferred.  In fact it's arrival in North America received the same lukewarm reception.

However once folks became aware of the nutritional benefits of broccoli and warmed up to the taste, the popularity of broccoli soared.  In the last 25 years broccoli consumption has increased an amazing 940 % !

Sprouting broccoli is thought to be the most ancient form of broccoli.  It seems to be a veg that is much more popular in England than here in North America.  It doesn't have a solid head as regular broccoli, but indeed all sort of little sprouting heads. I often find seed for it in the British seed catalogues, where they recommend a fall planting, overwintering and then a feast of slim, succulent heads in the spring. In our climate this is virtually impossible as it cannot withstand our harsh winters.  I have grown it here by simply planting it at the same time as regular broccoli . It is a very visually appealing plant, and yummy too, although it does need a long period to produce.

As I've written here before, my favourite typical broccoli is the open pollinated Green Goliath, which all the seed companies seem to be dropping from their catalogues.  Shame.  It is a great broccoli, producing a large head, and a seasons worth of side shoots.  It is not an heirloom, but I still prefer it to Calabrese, Umpqua or Thompson which have been recommended to me.

Other broccolis don't maybe look so much like broccoli.  Broccoli raab, is a zingy, bitter treat, Purple Peacock is Frank Morten's very clever cross of broccoli and kale (the top picture) which produces a large purple head and of course edible kale like leaves, the gorgeous chartreuse romanesco , and my personal favourites the southern Italian spigiarello, pictured above.  Spigiarello has very small head to the point of pretty much being a headless broccoli, but both the frilly and thicker leaved version are grown for their true broccoli flavoured leaves.  I have seed for many of these varieties mentioned.

If you want to plant broccoli, accept that it is a heavy feeder.  I always start mine indoors, then when they are precisely 6 weeks old, after hardening them off, plant them in a well composted soil.  I find if the plants are older they tend to bolt or produce poorly.

Chances are too those lovely fluttering cabbage butterflies will magically find them and lay their eggs.  And then appears the nasty cabbage looper, a green worm who can munch broccoli et al until it is the saddest looking plant in your garden.  To protect your plants, cover them with agricultural fabric , burying it solidly in the ground with no gaps to allow butterflies to enter.

If you have planted an open pollinated variety of broccoli, you need to overwinter it in order to save seed.  I find I can do this successfully in my hoophouse in our Southern Ontario climate and at times need to cover it with ag fabric when the temperatures dip too low.  In the spring the bright yellow mustard-type flowers give way to seed pods, which are best dried on the plant.  Broccoli readily crosses with other brassica family members so needs to be isolated or the blossoms bagged if you are collecting seed.

And now the best part....eating it!

Broccoli Cheese Soup

I've made this soup many times on chilly fall nights with fresh cut broccoli.  It is not low calorie as you can tell from the ingredients and as a vegetarian, I substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock.


  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 9 cups chicken stock
  • 9 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons white pepper
  • 5 cups fresh broccoli florets
  • 1 1/2 pounds processed cheese, shredded
  • 3 cups shredded Cheddar cheese


  1. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat, and mix in the flour. Reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Mix in the chicken stock and milk, and season with salt and white pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer about 10 minutes.
  2. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Place the broccoli in the boiling water, and cook 2 minutes, or until just tender. Remove from heat, drain, and set aside.
  3. Gradually mix the processed cheese and Cheddar cheese into the large pot until melted. Mix in the broccoli. Continue cooking about 5 minutes.


Kris Mo said...

Wow, way to spam Samual!

I absolutely LOVE broccoli - it's the one vegetable that I could literally eat absolutely every day for the rest of my life without complaint! Steamed, sauteed, broiled, baked with cheese... mmmm good!

I plan to grow some romanesca this year, as I have the seeds, but I'd love to try your Giant, Linda, if you happen to know where I can get it! Is there a supplier that hasn't yet dropped it?

Kris Mo said...

Oops! I meant Green Goliath... I knew it was something about being big!

Kris Mo said...

Last comment, I promise! Silly me, I just found the seed on your 2011 sale list. Hooray! Orderin' here I come!

Linda said...

I LOVE broccoli too( do I say that about all veggies?)
All your comments are welcome Kris and thanks for reading!

Willow said...

I love broccoli, too. I tried growing some (from your seeds), but I planted them too late, and a neighbourhood rabbit got to them. I'll try again this spring!

Joan said...

Ei Linda, really interesting post. The Brassica's world is really amazing!
Wich variety corresponds to the second photo that appears (wich has toothed leaves?)