It’s here in my broccoli post where those of you who know me will find out just how insane I might be. As soon as my baby was eating cereal, I was blending organic steamed broccoli in her cereal every morning, sometimes more than once a day. And yes, I made the cereal too. (We also used Earth’s Best Organic baby cereal, but I want my kid to know that feeding her well was my greatest joy. I could control that; I’ve never regretted the thought and time I put into those meals–and still do.) I would look at the food pyramid, and wonder how in hell can we get that many servings of fruits and vegetables into her daily diet.
When she started going to school half-days on Tuesdays and Thursdays, she got a road bucket of steamed broccoli for the ride (which she devoured). I always thought that if she would get used to the flavors of the vegetables, she would always like them. And if she was in a car seat (or stroller) I’d offer only one choice of snack–always a vegetable or whatever fruit we had growing. She didn’t know what baby puffs were. I always thought she should just eat the real food. Confession: many, many boxes of Cheerios were consumed in the interim.
We eat broccoli year-round, but grow it in the winter. Broccoli ranks 27th out of the 51 foods tested for pesticide loads. But because we eat so much of it, I try to buy organic or grow it myself. Just make sure you wash it well if you buy non-organic. (Frozen organic broccoli is always a good staple to have in the freezer. Produce that is frozen loses a percentage of its nutrients, but is a quick, inexpensive alternative to fresh.) I use a bamboo steamer in a non-reactive stainless steel pan. Why go through all the trouble to eat well only to cook your food in cheap, Teflon pans that degrade and end up in your food? (The microwave is an excellent way to cook fresh vegetables. Put them in a glass measuring cup with water and nuke for 3-4 minutes. If you’re really ambitious, you can save that steamed water for soup stock.)
I’ve always bought my broccoli starts from our Master Gardener’s winter vegetable sale. This year, I had a friend give me a flat of cole crop starters of unknown origin, and shared those with anyone who would take some. It was a GREAT year for broccoli. Sometimes you can have a fall crop as well as an early spring crop. I’ve always planted for an early spring crop. If it gets too hot, too quickly, broccoli will bolt. Harvest broccoli when it looks like the broccoli you buy in the store. If you wait too long hoping it gets bigger, the flowers (which are edible) will start to open. Remember, it’s the flower buds that we eat. Once you cut the crown off, axillary shoots will grow out the sides of the stalk. Those are just as tasty, and will continue to produce small heads for up to three months! I usually just eat those in the yard, or put them into salads. Look closely as you eat the side shoots as aphids love old broccoli. Colonies of gray-green insects might be hard to see if you’re far-sighted. The chickens would love a crack at them. Also check the undersides of leaves if you see holes–cabbage loopers and slugs also like broccoli.