Yesterday I gave you the bill of fare for a dinner held by members of the Royal Society of London. The dish which I featured was for Stoved (Stewed) Eels, but there was one other item on this bill of fare which is deserving of a little extra attention. It was most unusual at the time for a vegetable dish to be given specific mention on a menu, but at the dinner in 1774 there was a dish of ‘Greens and Collyflower.”
Cauliflower is simply one of the cultivated varieties of the cabbage (Brassica oleracea) as are Brussels sprouts and broccoli. In the case of the cauliflower of course it is the flowering head (which is usually white) which is eaten, rather than the leaves.
The cauliflower was cultivated in Italy in the sixteenth century from where it made its way to France, and then the rest of Europe and Britain. The first reference given in the Oxford English Dictionary is from John Gerard’s Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes, first published in 1597. Gerard says, in his chapter on Coleworts:
ColeFlorie, or after some Coliflorie, hath many large leaves sleightly endented about the edges, of a whitish greene colour, narrower and sharper pointed then Cabbage: in the middest of which leaves riseth up a great white head of hard flowers closely thrust together, with a roote full of strings: in other partes like unto the Colewoorts.
The picture of a cauliflower which accompanies Gerard’s text shows a plant with a much smaller flower head relative to the volume of leaves than occurs in a modern cauliflower – which is testament to the efforts of generations of horticulturalists since the sixteenth century.
The first reference to cauliflower on a menu that I have found to date is in the correspondence of
Mary Granville (Mrs. Delaney,) the aristocratic English artist. On 7th June, 1734 she wrote:
To-day I am to have to dine with me Sir John Stanley, Lord Percival, Mr. and Mrs. Percival: they are to have for dinner, imprimis, boiled leg of lamb and loin fried, collyflowers and carrots; beef-steaks; secondly, roast chicken, artichokes and lampreys, cherry pie; thirdly, jelly, strawberries, cream, and cherries.
Yesterday’s recipe source was Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy published in 1747. Glasse mentions cauliflower as an ingredient in a few of her made dishes, but not as a stand-alone dish. Elizabeth Raffald however, a couple of decades later in another eighteenth century classed, The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769) gives a very basic recipe:
To Boil a Cauliflower.
Wash and clean your cauliflower, boil it in plenty of milk and water (but no salt) till it be tender. When you dish it up lay greens under it, pour over a good melted butter and send it up hot.
She also has a fine recipe for pickling – perhaps suggesting that the vegetable was much more common and available than it had been only a few decades before.
To pickle Cauliflowers.
Take the closest and whitest cauliflowers you can get, pull them hi bunches, spread them on an earthen dish, and lay salt all over them. Let them stand for three days, to bring out all the water; then put them in earthen jars, and pour boiling salt and water upon them: let them stand all night, and then drain them on a hair-sieve. Put them into glass jars , fill up the jars with distilled vinegar, and tie them close down with leather.