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From the garden: broccoli, broccolini and more

May 2, 2014
By JOYCE COMINGORE - Garden Club of Cape Coral ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Right now, when I go to the gardens at Trafalgar Middle School, I am diligently picking the broccoli blooms full of bees. The big heads of broccoli are harvested and the little side shoots are bursting into spikes of yellow flowers which the bees love, and we certainly need them in our garden for successful pollination.

The garden is winding down because school ends in a month. The small side heads of broccoli are blooming daily and I'm there once a week. Not enough to do ripening vegetables justice.

I do pick a good supply of small broccoli heads that have not blossomed. The Soup Kitchen takes these branches of broccoli blooms and uses them in their soups and stews, so they are worth picking. The short compact stalks of broccoli heads are becoming less plentiful.

I was casually told that these are called broccolini, and the Master Gardener that I am, said, "No they are not. That's an entirely different plant."

"Well," I was told, "one of the kitchen cooks says they are, and he's Italian."

Who can fight a fact like that without Google? So here I am back at Google.

Over two decades ago, in March of 1990, our then president, George H. W. Bush, announced that he doesn't like broccoli, making it a politically incorrect vegetable. Stating, "I do not like broccoli And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States, and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli," dashing a lot of mothers pushing "eat all your green vegetables" leverage.

"The Great Broccoli Debate" didn't end there though, resurfacing in the 1992 during the presidential campaign when Hillary Clinton and Tipper Gore held up, "Let's put broccoli back in the White House" signs. Then in July 2013, President Barack Obama announced that his favorite food is broccoli.

My children and grandchildren loved broccoli because we told them they were eating "little trees." In fact, today as adults, they really like broccoli. A little cheese sauce doesn't hurt any (except their arteries), either.

But I digress, back to Google. Broccolini is definitely not broccoli side shoots. It is very definitely a plant introduced in Mexico in 1994 and brought to the U.S. market in 1996. Did I emphasize definitely enough? A hybrid cousin of broccoli, it was developed in California by the Sakata Seed Company of Yokohama, Japan. Broccolini is a green vegetable with small broccoli-like florets and long, thin stalks, a cross between broccoli and a Chinese kale (gai lan). It is described as having a sweeter taste, with an asparagus and broccoli flavor, and often called "baby broccoli."

It is more tender and delicate than broccoli or broccoli raab, and also known as "aspiration," biome, broccoletti and tender deem. I read where someone called it a marketing scam in order to sell broccoli at a higher price.

Italian immigrants introduced broccoli to the U.S. It didn't become popular in the states until the 1920s. The Brassicacea (formally known as Cruciferea) family is known as the "mustard" or "cabbage family." Broccoli, botanically known as Brassica oleraces Italica, native to the Mediterranean, had its origin in Italy 2,000 years ago. It was engineered from a cabbage relative by the ancient Etruscans, who were considered horticulture geniuses. Broccoli's name comes from several sources with Italian for "cabbage sprout" being the best explanation. It is considered a uniquely valuable food among the Italians. When first introduced, the English called it "Italian asparagus."

Other Brassica oleracea cultivars are cabbage, purple broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, kohlrabi, Brussel sprouts and Romanesco broccoli (a green head, each cluster having pointy-cones shape). Broccoli crossbred with cauliflower is called broccoflower, first produce in Europe in 1988. Even though Thomas Jefferson experimented with planting the seeds at Monticello in 1767, it remained an exotic in America where it was not commercially cultivated here until 1922.

We find in Florida that broccoli is a winter crop. Propagated by seeds either into the ground or into pots for transplanting, broccoli reaches harvest after 60 to 150 days. Soil Ph should be 6.2-6.5 and add rich compost, plant with 6 to 8 hours of sun, water consistently, with heavy soaking once a week or at least two inches a week, fertilize with a 6-8-8. The flowers are hermaphrodite (having both male and female organs) and pollinated by bees.

At the gardens, I have let a few shoots develop little green pods that are swelling daily. I'm curious to see if I can grow seeds for next year. I hate to pull up the plants, but the time is coming to re-do all the beds.

Broccoli sprouts are broccoli seeds sprouted and grown for about 3 to 5 days. While both the broccoli and its sprouts are both bursting with vitamins and minerals, 3-day-old sprouts have 20 to 50 times more of these compounds than the mature heads.

There are more types of broccoli as I have mentioned. Broccoli rabbi - with spiky leaves surrounding tiny green floret buds. The stems and leaves are eaten, having a nutty, pungent but bitter taste. Due to its bitterness, Broccoli rabbi should always be cooked and not served raw. Some call it rapine. Appearing like a leafy broccolini, it is actually a member of the turnip family, with edible stalks, flowers and leaves.

Broccoflower is a cross between broccoli and cauliflower, and looks like a lime- green cauliflower. Cauliflower is a bit flavorless and can absorb the other flavors with which it's cooked, while broccoli has a strong cabbage smell and flavor that dominates dishes in which it is cooked. Broccoflower originated in Holland and has a milder, sweeter flavor than each of its crosses.

Romanesco broccoli/cauliflower is a cross that has pointy, pine tree-shaped stem heads. They are both delicious raw or cooked.

Whether broccoli is your friend or foe, nutritional benefits are reduced if the vegetable is boiled. When I first ate broccoli, I wanted it boiled to mush, but now, I have come to appreciate the firm blanched taste or raw.

Thank a plant for your clear fresh air.

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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