Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Brief History of Foods: Broccoli

"A Brief History of Foods" is mostly aimed at improving my knowledge on the origins of the foodstuffs commonly eaten in Britain throughout its long history.  Over the years I have been surprised to learn how few of our commonly used ingredients are actually native to these shores, and just how many were introduced, when and by whom.  Perhaps you too might discover something new and quite interesting.

Broccoli (Brassica oleracea italic) is a cultivar of wild cabbage, which originated along the northern and western coasts of the Mediterranean and Asia Minor.  Wild cabbage may have been domesticated by the Etruscans, who first settled in the northern and central portion of Italy in about 1100 BC.  That domestication eventually produced wildly different cultivars, including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, and Brussels sprouts, all of the mustard family (Brassicaceae).

The Italian word “brocco” means sprout, bud, or shoot, and derived from the Latin brachium meaning an arm or branch.  However, Roman references to a cabbage-family vegetable that may have been broccoli are not entirely clear.  The Roman natural historian Pliny the Elder writes of a vegetable fitting well with the description of broccoli and most classical food historians recognise broccoli in the cookbook of Apicius.

As its name suggests, broccoli was eaten in Italy long before anywhere else.  It is first mentioned in France in 1560, but broccoli was still so unfamiliar in Britain that Philip Miller's Gardener's Dictionary of 1724 referred to it as a stranger in England and explained it as "sprout colli-flower" or "Italian asparagus”.  So, although the Roman cultivated and ate broccoli, it was not until the 1700s that this particular vegetable was widely introduced to Britain and America.

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