Heirloom Seed Surprise

Despite my black thumb, my summer garden last year was a success, at least by my standards. Sure, three innocent tomato plants gave their lives, but one hardy hybrid managed to bring forth some late summer snack tomatoes. The green peppers were about the size of golf balls, but they tasted great. And the pumpkin yield was fantastic: my tiny garden produced 7 large orange pumpkins that more than took care of our Halloween needs. Thus emboldened, I bought some heirloom seeds (from a specialty heirloom seed supplier) for my fall garden. I decided to grow romanescu broccoli, which is a fabulously delicious cone-shaped broccoli I had only been able to get from a single gentleman farmer who no longer comes to my local farmer’s market. At first, they didn’t seem to do well. They sprouted all right in my little tray, but they simply sat, forelorn in the garden, not growing, not dying. Only one decided to grow, but only to do the trick gardeners call “bolting;” before any broccoli heads came in, the plant was in full flower. I neglected the romanescu broccoli sproutlings during our stormy winter, figuring I could dig out their corpses in the Spring. But to my surprise, when the Spring sunshine came out, the romanescu broccoli (or what I thought was the romanescu broccoli) grew up strong and proud. Most of the plants did nothing but put out leaves, but two grew beautiful broccoli heads, like this one:

One of the plants, however, came up like this:

It didn’t quite taste like broccoli, but it didn’t taste bad, either. Had my romanescu broccoli mutated in some way? I googled “purple broccoli” and found out that what grew in my garden, from what I thought was a broccoli seed, looked an awful lot like a different type of heirloom plant, namely purple cauliflower. When I went back and tasted it again, it did indeed taste like a slightly more flavorful cauliflower.

I suspect my romanescu broccoli packet included at least one purple cauliflower seed as well: the seeds certainly looked identical and until the cauliflower actually sprouted, the plant looked the same as well. So maybe I got two heirloom vegetables by accident, or maybe some romanescu broccoli plants grow very strangely in my odd little garden.

Update: The purple “cauliflower” turned out to be purple broccoli. When I cooked it up, it turned green, just as purple broccoli is supposed to do. It was delicious, but it still wasn’t romanescu broccoli.

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