Cauliflower Whys and Hows

A cauliflower plant growing in the gardenCauliflower is in the brassica family, making it a cool-weather grower. It will bolt in the heat (meaning it will begin to produce seed and cease to be at peak flavor). The best time to grow cauliflower in most regions is in late summer for a cool fall harvest. Most varieties will tolerate some frostand will actually develop sweeter flavor if allowed some frost exposure just before harvestbut do best in long, sunny and cool growing conditions.

Cauliflower can be started from seed or planted into the garden as a transplant. Seeds should be started around 10 weeeks before our average last frost date. Transplants can be placed in the garden about 4 weeks before your frost date.

Some cauliflower requires blanching to protect the edible flower, or curd, portion of the plant from sun. For cauliflower that requires blanching, it means tying a few of the large outer leaves over the top of the flower head as soon as it reaches about 3 inches across. Don't tie the leaves too tightly, as the goal isn't to smother the inner flower but to shade it, and allow plenty of air to circulate. Cauliflower will produce best with regular watering or rainfall.

Cauliflower harvest time is critical. If left in the garden past its prime, its flavor will become sharp and bitter and it will develop a tough, mealy texture. If harvested too early, the vegetable's mild, sweet flavor won't be fully developed, and the edible portions won't be full-size. Heads should be blanched, firm and compact. Harvest before the curds separate. Use a strong, sharp knife and cut the stalk well below the green leaves, and keep the leaves over the flower until the vegetable is going to be prepared. If stored in a cellar, it prefers no light and some humidity. If stored in the refrigerator, wrap in plastic wrap to last up to one week.

Eaten cooked, raw, or pickled, cauliflower's a snap to prepare. It blends well with spicy, tart or salty pickling brines, cheese sauces, and Asian stir-fry or curry flavors. It will keep for up to one month in a cool, dark root cellar, as long as the outer leaves and a portion of the stem are left intact with the curd. It can be frozen by traditional methods, and its flavor and texture are ideal for pickling.

It's important to rotate crops of all brassica plants each few years.

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