Monday, June 20, 2011


I have not paid enough attention to vegetables recently – not in my diet, I hasten to add, but certainly in my blog. Today I want to talk about broccoli. The first reference to broccoli listed in the Oxford English Dictionary is from John Evelyn’s Acetaria, in which he mentions it as coming from Naples, which is interesting in itself. The next reference is from Bailey’s dictionary of the 1730’s in which it is defined as ‘an Italian Plant of the Colly-Flower Kind.’  There does not seem to be any doubt that we must give the Italians the credit for cultivating or popularising the broccoli.

The OED definition is:

 “One of the cultivated forms of the cabbage (Brassica oleracea botrytis asparagoides), the young inflorescence of which forms a close fleshy edible head: in its origin a more robust and hardy variety of the cauliflower. Broccoli is distinguished as green, purple, and white, the last hardly distinguishable from cauliflower, except in being in season in winter or early spring.”

Strangely, the OED does not give any alternative spellings of the word ‘broccoli’ other than ‘brocoli’, which is an odd omission considering that ‘brockala’ was also used, as in the following recipe from The Modern Cook and Frugal Housewife’s Compleat Guide, by E. Spencer (‘Late Principal COOK to a Capital TAVERN in London’), 1782. Many early recipes for broccoli suggest that the stalks can be cooked and used like asparagus – a fine comment on our modern practice, when we tend to throw away much of the stalk.

To dress Brockala.
Strip off all the branches till you come to the top one, then with a knife peel off the hard outside skin, which is on the stalks and little branches, and tie them up as asparagus, and throw them into water; have a stew-pan of water with some salt in, when it boils put in the brockala, and when the stalks are tender it is enough, then send to table with butter in a cup.

P.S for nineteenth century Broccoli and Buttered Eggs, go HERE.

Quotation for the Day.

A vegetable garden in the beginning looks so promising and then after all little by little it grows nothing but vegetables, nothing, nothing but vegetables.
Gertrude Stein.


Ferdzy said...

"Brockala" makes me think of the Purple Peacock brockali (Frank Morton's spelling to emphasize the kale connection) that we are growing this year. It's a cross between broccoli and kale, and you can eat the whole dang thing! Frank Morton is a genius, at least I hope so. It's growing well, but we haven't eaten any of it yet.

Oh, and Gertrude can go suck a lemon. Veggie gardens are the best gardens!

Les said...

I've been slicing the stalks thin and cooking them for years since it seemed wasteful to throw out what is at least half of the head. I don't know why I never thought to peel them. There used to be bagged slivered broccali stalks good for stir frying or making slaw available at the grocery store marketed as broccali woccali but I haven't seen it for years.

J.W. said...

Since the stems are a bit tougher then the buds, another way to go about it is to put them down in the bottom of a pot instead of a steamer basket. They're perfectly boiled right at the same time the buds resting on top(out of the water) are steamed!

The Old Foodie said...

Ferdzy - do let us know how the brockali turns out, it sounds great.
Les, the bagged broccoli stalks sounds like a great idea! I wonder what happended to it?
Jesse - a great idea, I guess you need a pot sust the right sizee - a bit like an asparagus pot (which I have always wanted to own)

Les said...

I can't find the bagged broccoli in Oklahoma but it's possible it's a south Texas brand that isn't available here.