Like “Big Kev” McQuay, the morning TV icon of the 1990's, I'm excited! Six months ago I sowed a dozen 'Purple Sprouting' broccoli seeds in my vegie garden, germinated them, lovingly tended to the plants' needs throughout autumn and winter, all while assuring my wife that at some point in August or September, dozens of hazy purple florets will start to form in such abundance that we'll be hard pressed to find ways to use them in the kitchen.
It's been a long process. But I'm pleased to announce that a week ago, my half dozen plants finally did what they were bred to do...sprout! And despite Kylie's skepticism, florets are indeed forming in such abundance that it's almost as if the plants are repaying the care I've shown them for a half a calendar year.
Purple Sprouting broccoli is an heirloom English variety that unlike heading forms of broccoli, which form a large central flower stalk followed by smaller side shoots, produces a mass of small florets on a single plant. If these florets are picked regularly, the plant will be stimulated to produce more and more, keeping a household in the best broccoli I've ever tasted for weeks on end.
Part of the reason Purple Sprouting is so flavoursome is because of its chemical composition. Being purple, the the florets contains higher levels of anti-oxidants than green broccoli, along with the phytochemical sulphoraphane, which has anti-cancer, anti-diabetic and anti-microbial properties. Purple Sprouting is a nutritional powerhouse, in other words, but to get the benefits it's important to eat the florets raw, or cook them thoughtfully. Studies have shown that steaming is better than boiling, and microwaving is better than steaming.
Because it has such a long season, Purple Sprouting broccoli performs best in a temperate climate zone, where a long, slow autumn and cold winter allows the plants to mature before spring weather initiates flowering. Work plenty of organic matter into the soil prior to planting to feed the plants over the long term, and bang in some tomato stakes to prevent them from keeling over in high winds (they can grow up to 1.2m tall!). One final touch is to throw a vege net over the plants during autumn to prevent outbreaks of cabbage white butterfly grubs. The only other thing to do is be patient. When it comes to Purple Sprouting broccoli, good things come to those who wait.
By: Justin Russell
First published: August 2012