Jefferson-era Recipe: Cauliflower

Posted in: Food and drink

Time for the February installment of our monthly series in which we post a recipe from The Virginia House-wife, a recipe book published in 1824 by Mary Randolph, kinswoman to Thomas Jefferson. Leni Sorensen, our African American Research Historian and a culinary historian of national repute, has once again made this month's dish and here we include her notes and pictures.

CAULIFLOWER
February 2011

The original recipe from Mary Randolph:

Choose those that are close and white, and of a middle size, trim off the outside leaves, cut off the stalk flat at the bottom, let them lie in salt and water an hour before you boil them.  Put them in boiling water with a handful of salt in it, skim it well, and let it boil slowly till done, which a small one will be in fifteen minutes, a large one in twenty, and take it up the moment it is enough; a few minutes longer boiling will spoil it.  (Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-Wife, 1824, pg. 123)

This is a recipe that makes clear that for the most part good cooks of the late 18th and early 19th centuries did not cook vegetables to death as seems to have become the style later in the 19th century.

Randolph requires a soaking in salt water for the whole cauliflowers as she is going to serve the heads whole.  She wanted to be very sure there were no cabbage worms lurking in the creases of the florets.  Even today that is a good idea especially for homegrown cauliflower (and broccoli too). 

When it is ‘enough’ as she so simply phrases it the whole cauliflower is drained well in a colander being careful to keep the whole head together and served hot.  She does not list seasonings but I suggest the following possibilities:

  • Butter (or a drizzle of good olive oil) with a generous grinding of black pepper
  • Buttered and toasted bread crumbs
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • A dusting of Paprika
  • :)  all the above! 

Ready to trim

 

Boiling in salted water

 

Seasoning with butter and paprika

 

Serving

Comments

says

Thank you for your nice words! MR is so way cool and I want more and more people to know about her.
Leni the Cook

says

Thanks for cooking this, Leni. That's the perfect cauliflower serving platter.

Does the salt soak and salt in the water when boiling result in a noticeable taste difference?

My family recipes usually require boiling our veggies to death, and occasionally a bath in cream sauce postmortem. So I'm really interested in this method of cauliflowering. It looks in the picture like you had only a bit of water in the pot and a lid to top it so the cauliflower is boiled/steamed. Is that correct?

says

Yes, kristie - I love that red/plum pie plate and I use it far more for veggies than for pie actually! You are correct that what I did is more like steaming than boiling. With the big part of the stem cut short, or even cored out a bit, the inner stems cook just right for my taste (which is tender but not mushy). this recipe allows the full flavor of the vegetable to shine through. I think folks used to bathe things in sauce to hide what they were pretty sure they wouldn't like! :)
You can do this same technique with broccoli, only after cutting the flower head from the stem I'd peel the stem and cut it in quarters and lay them on the bottom of the pan/steamer so just about the time the flowerettes are done the stems are tender. But I tend to liek my cabbagy/cole/brassicas on the crunchy side. I do think the salt soak may give just the right amount of flavor - and in any case the papriks, garlic, butter add quite a nice flavor punch. Thanks for your interest!, Leni the Cook

says

This is one of my favorite features on our webpages. Thanks so much for sharing these recipes with us, Leni!

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