Origin and History of Broccoli.:
Broccoli is a form of cabbage, the Brassica oleracea capitata DC., or Brassica oleracea conica (H), of the mustard (Brassicaceae) family. It is a fast-growing, upright, branched, annual plant, 60-90 cm tall that is prized for its top crowns of tender, edible, green flower buds. Its thick, green stalks are edible too. It is native to Italy.
Broccoli and cauliflower are two derivatives of cabbage, both selected for their edible, immature flower heads. Broccoli is grown for the clustered green (or purple) flower buds that are picked before they open and eaten raw or cooked. The cauliflower head is a cluster of aborted, malformed flower buds that stopped developing in the bud stage. Cauliflowers come in white, lime green and purple varieties.
In Great Britain the term broccoli refers to the cauliflower (Brassica oleracea, Botrytis group). Native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor, sprouting broccoli was cultivated in Italy in ancient Roman times and was introduced into England about 1720 and to America probably in colonial times.
Broccoli has two different distinct forms. One is " sprouting broccoli ," which makes a somewhat branching cluster of green flower buds atop a thick, green flower stalk, and smaller clusters that arise like "sprouts" from the stems. This form, called "calabrese" in Britain, is the most commonly grown form in the United States. The other type of broccoli makes a dense, white "curd" like that of cauliflower and is called "heading broccoli" or "cauliflower broccoli." This latter form is usually grouped with cauliflower, leaving the term "broccoli" restricted to sprouting varieties.
Like the other close relatives of cabbage, broccoli is native to the Mediterranean area and Asia Minor. It has been popular in Italy since the days of the Roman Empire. However, records indicate this vegetable was unknown in England until a relatively recent few hundred years ago. It has become popular in the United States only during this century.
It thrives in moderate to cool climates and is propagated by seeds, either sown directly in the field or in plant beds to produce transplants. Broccoli grows to about 0.75 m high, and reaches harvest in 60 to 150 days, depending upon the variety and the weather. It is in flower from May to August, and the seeds ripen from July to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by bees. The plant can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.
The flavor of broccoli resembles that of cabbage but is somewhat milder. Fresh broccoli should be dark green in color, with firm stalks and compact bud clusters. Only one type of broccoli is generally found in markets, but a few close relatives of this vegetable are also available. Broccoli rabe has thinner stalks and is leafier, with smaller bunches of buds. It has a stronger, more bitter flavor, and all of the plant, including its leaves, is edible. Broccolini is a new vegetable that looks just like regular broccoli except that the stalks are delicate, with thin stems; the flower buds are also smaller. Broccoli is available frozen and is sometimes included in frozen vegetable mixes.
Broccoli is available year-round but is a cool-weather vegetable that is best between January and March. Spring broccoli should be harvested in the early morning, because it wilts very rapidly in the sun. The broccoli head should be cut before the flower buds open. If the buds begin to open and the yellow flower petals begin to show, the head is over-mature and unfit for market. Cut the heads with a length of 23 to 25 cm from the base of the stem to the top of the head. The central heads vary from 6 to 12 cm in diameter. Light frosts do not hurt broccoli appreciably; therefore, harvest in the fall generally continues until the first freeze.
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