Popular Varieties: Snow Crown, Romanesco, Purple Cape
Store At: In the refrigerator it will keep up to 5 days; try to keep the leaves on it or the head will lose its whiteness.
Comes From: Worldwide, mostly temperate zones.
Seasonality: All year round
Cauliflower is most commonly cooked or steamed before eating, but can also be pickled. Either way, cauliflower is packed with goodness; see the nutritional table. They are low in saturated fat, and since they're a plant, contain no cholesterol.
When selecting a cauliflower to buy, select heads that are firm and tightly packed, with a white head; cream or yellowing heads indicates age and they are not as fresh, as with floppy leaves. To prepare, remove the leaves and pull apart into smaller florets.
There are three types of cauliflower; Early, Autumn and Overwintering, which closely describes the time of year to grow them. For information on growing, see below.
The Cauliflower is one of many plants in nature that illustrates the Fibonacci numbers in its structure. Anyone who has read a recent cult classic about a certain code by a certain painter may remember Fibonacci; it is a series of numbers, where the next number is the sum of the previous two (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 etc). Cauliflowers exhibit this numerical series in the head structure; the head of a typical cauliflower is almost a perfect pentagon, and the "bulges" of the curd actually have two sets of spirals, going in opposite directions (see this site for more information).
It is thought that cauliflowers originated in Cyprus, and the oldest ones on record date back to the sixth century BC. A thousand years later they were still a popular crop in Cyprus, being known in England as "Cyprus Coleworts". They were also grown in Syria around the same time, and were introduced to Spain from Syria in the twelfth century.
Cauliflower, like many foods, was largely restricted to Italy until the 16th Century; indeed it was not properly cultivated to its current state until the 15th Century. From Italy, it was introduced to France, and then from there to other areas of Europe. It was not grown in North America until the 1600s, and today is largely grown in California.
In recent years other colours of cauliflower have been developed; a purple variety, Purple Cape, was developed as a result of a mutant plant found in a field. The strain was developed in Denmark and is now commercially available. The purple colouration comes largely from formation of anthocyanins in the curd; these are typically found in red grapes, red cabbage, and many other red fruit or vegetables, and are thought to be anti-cancer compounds and actually very good for you.
Eating - keeping this short and sweet - either boiled or steamed, or they can be pickled. They do not usually have an ornamental value as some members of the brassica family do.
Cauliflowers are amongst some of the most difficult vegetables to grow in the home garden; it is said that the ability to grow cauliflower is an indication of a good garden and good gardener.
Cauliflowers should be started under cover (indoors or in a greenhouse) 6 to 8 weeks before they are to be planted in the garden for early varieties (March to June), but late varieties can be sold directly into the soil if it is warm enough (April to June); this is a less reliable method however. Overwintering cauliflower should be started July to August. The seeds germinate best at a temperature of around 25°C (75°F). Young plants are cold tolerant but will not survive frosts. After germination, when large enough, the young cauliflower seedlings should be potted up individually.
When planting out, they should be spaced around about 2 feet apart between plants and 2 feet apart between rows. Any weeding or soil cultivation should be kept shallow around the growing plants, for the roots are shallow. They grow best on well drained soil with high moisture content, so add plenty of organic material to retain water.
When the head appears, it is best to tie the plant\'s leaves over the head to blanch it white; some varieties self blanch, but this can be reliable and should be assisted to make sure it works right.
Cauliflowers prefer temperate, moist climates. If temperatures are too low, plants can button (a process which creates small heads), whereas if the temperatures are too high, they will not produce flower heads.
Cauliflowers will generally be ready for harvesting about two months after planting out (early and autumn varieties), but a lot longer for overwintering types. They should be harvested just before the flowers start to open; at this point, the heads are as big as they are going to get, and the flavour is at its best.
While there are the typical, everyday white versions of cauliflowers, including Snow Crown and Ravella, purple cauliflowers such as Purple Cape are available, and the curious Romanesco or pyramid cauliflower.
Another early type, Snow peak variety of Cauliflower have a crisp, mild taste.
This is a hybrid of cauliflower and broccoli recently created, with dense very pale green heads, with the appearance of a cauliflower but the flavour of broccoli.
Purple Cape is a purple variety of overwintering cauliflower; it is sweet tasting, and obviously, very colourful, making a real statement at the table!
Ravella is an autumn variety of cauliflower, very easy to grow, with excellent appearance and eating quality. It is a self-wrap variety; that is, the leaves tightly wrap the head and blanch it white.
This is a green cauliflower, and a very curious one at that; it's head is made up of lots of small pyramids, and is an example of a fractal image in nature; that is, something that repeats itself in self-similarity at different scales. It is sometimes known as the pyramid cauliflower for obvious reasons.
An early type of cauliflower, this is a vigorous variety to grow, producing curds with a mild and sweet flavour. It is a very easy variety of cauliflower to grow.