There are sometimes disadvantages to growing and preparing your own vegetables. Some years ago, the family sat down to eat dinner, which included cauliflower in a rich, creamy cheese sauce. It smelled wonderful and everyone was about to start eating when Valerie found a cabbage worm in her cheese sauce. Worms occasionally hide in the cauliflower’s many nooks and crannies; we’d obviously missed this one when we were washing the vegetables. It had been cooked in the sauce and was perfectly intact, bright green and rubbery. Bill and Jim made fun of Valerie’s concerns—after all, it was just one little worm. “Just pick it out, it won’t hurt you,” Bill told her. Ted was amused: “Go ahead and eat it, it’s good for you. More protein.” While Valerie excused herself to dump the cauliflower in the garbage, the rest of us continued to eat. However, it wasn’t long before we discovered that Valerie’s worm was not the only one swimming in the cheese sauce, and soon a heap of infested cauliflower lay piled at the centre of the table. To this day, Valerie won’t eat cauliflower without inspecting it very carefully first.
Tender loving careThe succulent white flesh of the cauliflower is a fragile thing. To bring it to fullness, this plant requires the utmost care and attention. Preventing yellow heads is a simple, if time-consuming, matter. Once the heads have formed, take some rubber bands or string and fasten the leaves shut over them. This protects the curds from the sun, preventing yellowing. However, the cauliflower plants must be checked daily to see if they have reached maturity. There’s nothing wrong with yellow curds, really: they taste a little stronger, but they are by no means inedible. I often pickle cauliflower if it turns yellow, a much better solution than throwing away the curds.
Many cauliflower varieties are self-wrapping—that is, the leaves form a protective layer over the head. The curds of these varieties stay tight and white, making them the best choice for your garden. Cauliflower curds that don’t self-wrap are also vulnerable to becoming ricey, a condition where the curd turns rough and begins to develop little seed heads.
ButtoningButtoning, or premature curd formation, occurs when vegetative growth is checked, usually when the plant is in a pack. Once a curd starts, nothing can be done; these overgrown, weak plants must not be transplanted into the garden. Buttoning may be caused by a number of factors: too-rapid hardening off, unbalanced fertility, low soil moisture, extreme and continued cold (4C for 10 days or more), or overgrown pack plants.
Keep it cool
Cauliflower, like corn, has a high respiration rate. The curds will deteriorate rapidly if cauliflower isn’t cooled immediately after harvest. We usually put cauliflower in an ice bath as soon as we cut it to keep it fresh.
Head of choice: Minuteman
I love this early variety! It’s ready for harvest in August, the succulent heads get up to 1kg, and it has good leaf cover to protect the curds from yellowing. Minuteman is a self-wrapping variety.
Transplant cauliflower seedlings at the beginning of May—like broccoli, cauliflower can withstand a light frost. Each plant typically yields about 1kg of cauliflower, enough for 1 or 2 side-dishes for a family of four.