Sunday, 6 July 2008

Mark Twain on Cauliflower

"Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education."

Mark Twain, from Pudd'nhead Wilson.

This is a very misquoted quote.

Most people only quote the second half, and are under the impression that Mark Twain was denigrating cauliflower. On the contrary! He was extolling the virtues of a college education. The cauliflower was the most expensive, festive and glamourous of vegetables on the Victorian table, and cabbage was pretty much what it is today, only more so; a sturdy staple of everyday cooking.

They are indeed technically the same plant, brassica oleracea, but growing cauliflower is considerably more of a challenge. This fellow insists it's easy; then gives a list of instructions as long as my arm. I'm not convinced! In Victorian times, cauliflower was even more work, as self-blanching types had not been developed yet. The leaves had to be tied up over the developing cauliflower to keep it white and moist. Producing it throughout the season required a somewhat complex system of starting it the fall before and keeping it in coldframes or greenhouses over the winter.

In short, cauliflower was not to be had by just anybody, nor for a few pennies. It was the queen of vegetables, and was often steamed whole and served elaborately garnished. Cabbage, on the other hand, was on everybody's plate... it was just a working stiff, without the benefit of a college education.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This is an excellent analysis of this quote. Thanks for your consideration.