Monday, March 9, 2015

Fresh grown veggies taste best

Anyone who has ever gardened knows how much tastier homegrown veggies are than their store-bought relatives.

That's especially true of broccoli, a highly nutritious member of the Brassica family, which — despite its reputation as a "super food" — ranks low in likability by the public. For most people, potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce and corn are more welcome at mealtime than a serving of broccoli florets.

While recognized as a super food because of its nutritional value, broccoli is not considered one of the more popular vegetables

I can understand why so many people are not crazy about this cruciferous vegetable. Until I met my husband, I wasn't crazy about it either.

When I was a kid, we rarely ate broccoli, but when we did, it didn't come from the garden or even from the produce market. Like most mid-twentieth century suburban families, the broccoli we ate came in a box from the frozen food section of the grocery store.

When it was time for dinner, my mother took the box out of our freezer, cut it open with a pair of kitchen shears and plopped the solid mass into a pot of boiling water. After cooking in too much water for way too long, everyone in the family received a dollop of the dark green mushy mass, which would then ooze its way into everything else on the plate.

To my young mind, broccoli wasn't so much a food as a contaminant. I put more effort into thwarting its seepage into my mom's lamb chops than shoveling it into my mouth.

That changed when I met my husband. Although I had no gardening experience in childhood, I married a man who did. Had it not been for Ralph's green thumb, I might never have known the difference between overcooked frozen vegetables and fresh-picked edibles from the garden. Thanks to him, our family has dined on homegrown food for over four decades. Our children grew up eating fresh-from-the-garden fare, and it makes me happy to know our grandchildren are doing the same. Apparently, the gardening gene is inheritable. Ralph got it from his parents and passed it down to our children.

Our granddaughter is excited about the broccoli she helped her Papa pick in his garden

Ralph's garden currently includes 164 broccoli plants in various stages of maturity. He began planting in August, sowing new seeds of about a dozen different varieties every other month to ensure a continuous crop. 

A small portion of one of Ralph's two raised containers garden where he grows much of the vegetables we eat

Like most gardeners, my husband experiments by growing numerous varieties to find the one that will grow well in our climate, resist disease and pest problems and produce plenty of flavorful florets. His top performer so far is Piracicaba, a broccoli from Fedco Seeds that doesn't produce a big single head.

People who don't garden may not realize that not all broccoli comes in large heads like those found in the produce bin at the store. Once the main head is harvested, some broccoli varieties respond by sending up numerous side-shoots of smaller florets. Those side-shoots have thinner stems and, while more time-consuming to pick, their tenderness and mild flavor more than compensates for any extra work involved.

Instead of producing a large head, Piracicaba bypasses that step entirely. Named after the Brazilian city where it was developed, this warm-weather-tolerant species focuses all its attention on the production of multiple tender, tasty side-shoots.

Instead of producing one large head of broccoli, a multitude of mini florets grow on Piracicaba broccoli plants 

As much as Ralph and I enjoy eating all the different kinds of broccoli he grows, we both prefer the flavor and texture of small florets. Not only is Piracicaba our favorite for taste, it has not fallen victim to fungus attacks during rainy spells as have several other varieties. Neither has it been bothered by diseases or insect infestations.

Needless to say, we eat plenty of broccoli, sharing extras with family and friends. I once was a broccoli pusher — pushing the mass of overcooked goo around and around on my plate. Now I push others to give broccoli a try. The best-tasting foods are the ones you grow yourself.

If you're interested in reading more about our broccoli-growing experiences, check out these posts:

Broccoli is the beneficial harvest of March

Son demonstrates frair for growing, surprises

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