What colour should food be? When does novelty go too far? On the whole we don’t eat blue food. I remember wondering, as a child, why raspberry SlushPuppies were blue. The colour didn’t matter too much – they all gave me ‘brain freeze’ and having a blue tongue was no big issue unless I tried to tell mum I hadn’t bought one on the way back from school!
But unilke the unnatural chemicals in soft drinks (in those days at least – now strawberry drinks have natural colouring – like beetroot), we are all supposed to eat fruit and veg that is as colourful as possible because of all those lovely antioxidants. I am as much of a sucker as anyone when it comes to healthy foods so this year I grew purple cauliflower.
I quite like cauliflower. I don’t hate it and I don’t love it. I must admit that I am a bit boring when it comes to eating it and I would say half our cauliflower consumption is covered in cheese sauce. Being a brassica, cauliflower is good for you but, being white rather than green it misses out on some nutritional benefits. So a purple cauliflower must be good. I have grown green and orange cauliflowers before. Green ones are fine but because a creamy discoloration of white caulis is something we try hard to avoid I have in instilled prejudice against orange cauliflowers.
My cauliflower of choice this year was ‘Parmac’. This is an F1 hybrid. Because cauliflowers have a bit of a reputation for being tricky to grow F1 hybrids are useful, being less temperamental. The problem with them is that they are so uniform. So, although I was unusually sensible and only planted out six plants, knowing that they would all have to be eaten the same week, I did have a mini glut. Nevertheless I was increasingly excited as I saw the curds starting to form. Within a fortnight they grew from a small, pale purple curd to beautiful purple heads. Any check to growth can result in tiny heads so I made sure I watered the plants, especially as they were in raised beds, in ‘new’ soil – native clay that had been dug and improved but is still pretty lumpy.
But then came the problem of using them. One of the attractions of this variety is the bright colour but, just like a hydrangea, the colour varies with the way they are used (or ph). I am not that keen on raw cauliflower, but I can eat it. And I don’t want to cut cauliflower ‘steaks’ and burn them, no matter how fashionable it may be.
I decided to pickle a small amount. When ‘Parmac’ is pickled it goes bright ‘fuchsia’ pink. But when cooked it goes blue. The boiling water is like ink. In fact I was so taken with it I used it to cooked some rice, which turned out pale lavender. And if you add some vinegar to the water it goes pink again. All very clever. Most of the cauliies were blanched and frozen.
The problem is that I am not sure blue food is a good thing. It tastes just like cauliflower, but my eyes tell me it is wrong! And I was hesitant to add cheese sauce in case that went blue too. In the end I did pour some on and where it touched the cauliflower the veg went mauve.
Would I grow it again? Well the seeds are expensive and I only sowed half the pack so I have some left. The plants were vigorous and very upright – so are ideal for small gardens. When it comes to being easy and productive they are brilliant. But while purple carrots and yellow courgettes are not a problem, I am still not sure about indigo cauliflower cheese.
Of course, if I had a restaurant I could serve minute pieces under a viola flower and make a fortune.