COLEWART AND THE COLE CROPS
Cole crops (Brassica oleracea)
BRASSICACEAE, Mustard Family
A classic example of diversity within a single species is provided by Brassica oleracea. The wild plant, B. oleracea var. oleracea, called colewort or field cabbage, grows along the dry Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of Europe. This plant has a group of basal leaves (a basal "rosette") and an open stalk (panicle) of flowers. From this humble beginning, humans selected for forms with special characteristics. At least 2500 years ago, and maybe 4000 years ago, certain forms of this species were chosen for cultivation. For example, there is evidence of this plant at the Neolithic lake dwellings at Robenhausen, and the ancient Romans favored broccoli. Plants were selected for the following features:
- loss of the strong, pungent flavors produced by the irritant mustard oils (sulfur-containing glucosinolates)
- enlargement of certain parts for eating
- loss of toughness
- growth in cool climates with long, cool growing seasons
- Large head on a stout stem. Cabbage (var. capitata). Fleshy leaves that are folded into a head (developed heads by the 12th century) or leaves that are somewhat open (Sabellic cabbage). Now more than 200 cultivars.
- Swollen stem. Kohlrabi or "cabbage turnip" (var. caulorapa). Primitive form used by Charlemagne; widely used in the Old World as a fodder (nutritious and easily stored).
- Leaves. Kale and collards (var. acephala).
- Thick stems with flower buds. Broccoli (var. botrytis, formerly var. italica). Stems and flower buds eaten after the leaves are removed; grows well in dry and hot climates.
- Inflorescence lacking chlorophyll. Cauliflower (var. botrytis). Condensed, much branched thickened stem with tightly closed flower buds; developed in Italy from broccoli before the 1600s.
- Enlarged axillary buds. Brussel sprouts (var. gemmifera). Plants that have a main stem on which the axillary buds develop into small heads (like baby cabbages).
All "cole crops" are rich in vitamin A and C, fair to good B vitamins and minerals. These crops are grown during the summer in temperate latitudes and as cool weather crops in California and Arizona. Sauerkraut was invented because cabbage could not be stored for long periods. Cabbage is cut up and layered with salt (no air). Fermentation by Lactobacillus causes sugar (glucose) to be converted into lactic acid.
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