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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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cauliflower Brassica oleracea, Botrytis group, a variety of the common cabbage in which flowers have begun to form but have stopped growing at the bud stage. The same applies to broccoli. The thick stems under the buds act as storage organs for nutrients which would have gone into the flowers and eventual fruits had their development not been aborted. All these varieties are therefore richer in vitamins and minerals than other brassicas.

The tendency to produce a ‘sport’ or freak growth of this kind has been noticed in wild cabbages, so prototypes of the cauliflower may have originated spontaneously in different places. Selective breeding would then have produced the present forms. Be that as it may, the origin of the cauliflower and its relatives is obscure. It is thought that they were first grown in the Near East, but no one is sure when. The belief of Cypriots that the cauliflower originated in Cyprus derives tenuous support from the old French name for it, chou de Chypre (Cyprus cabbage). Jane Grigson (1978), in a charming passage, evokes the idea:

The largest cauliflower I have ever seen, a great curdled depth of white cupped in green leaves, was about 45 cm across. It was so large that the elderly Turk who was carrying it, in the outskirts of Nicosia, could not get his arm right round. Only enough to clamp it to his side, as he shuffled along in his droopy black clothes.