Described by Arab
botanists and known to the Romans, the cauliflower
originally came from Cyprus, and was introduced to
France from Italy in the middle of the 16th century.
Today, food writers everywhere are extremely fond of
quoting Mark Twain's contention that "a cauliflower
is nothing but a cabbage with a college education,"
but somehow they always neglect to complete that
opinion with its beginning: "Training is
everything," he wrote (in Puddn' Head Wilson). "A
peach was once a bitter almond; a cauliflower is
nothing but a cabbage with a college education."
Twain could be saying that a cauliflower is just a
cabbage that resembles a brain (which, indeed, it
does); the absence of many other quotable about this
vegetable, however, speak clearly to the
cauliflower's humble status in the food world.
"Do I dare to eat a cauliflower?" somehow doesn't
have the same poetic ring to it that T.S. Eliot's
"Do I dare to eat a peach?" does, and one can
scarcely imagine children being as entranced by
James and the Giant Cauliflower as they are by
Ronald Dahl's masterpiece, James and the Giant
It's hard to imagine that this vegetable, now taken
somewhat for granted, was once the rage at the court
of Louis XIV and served in rich and elegant dishes
there as well as in Brittany, where it was
cultivated extensively. Menon, a food writer of the
18th century, suggested serving it in a rich sauce
made with veal, ham and cream, or as part of a stew
of sweetbreads, mushrooms and foie gras.
Such decadent and meaty dishes would probably find
no place in the diets of many 21st century
gourmands, save for the bravest (foodies in
particular will think of Tony Bourdain and his love
for strange organ meats), but once again the
cauliflower is being celebrated, now by the
residents of Margaretville-far away from the French
court, yes, but no less sophisticated or worldly.
to the Catskills
was first cultivated in Margaretville in 1891, when
William F. VanBenschoten planted a handful of seeds
on his farm on a mountaintop overlooking the
village. The vegetable thrived in the region, and
when Mr. VanBenschoten's first crop found a ready
market in New York City, his neighbors followed suit
and planted some, too.
While some farms in
the area continued to grow cauliflower through the
1990s, the heyday of the industry in the Catskill
Mountains ran from the early 1900s through the
1940s. Not only did the industry support farm
families and outside laborers, but it also supported
railroad workers, truck drivers, crate
manufacturers, produce agents and commission houses.
So important to the
local economy was the industry that the Catskill
Mountain News (which was then and still is one of
the most important sources of information to
residents of the Catskill Mountain Region) treated
bad weather, disease outbreaks, crop predictions and
cauliflower prices as front page news. Increased
competition from agribusiness operations, primarily
in Long Island and California, led to a decline in
the Catskill Region cauliflower industry by the
1950s. Long-time Margaretville residents, however,
never forgot the cauliflower and its importance in
portion of this article has been reprinted courtesy
of the Catskill Mountain Regional Guide magazine.