Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Called for not calling a cabbage a cabbage


As Ben Shewry from Australia's top restaurant, Attica,  finished answering my question about foraging I swung around to survey Ripponlea's vegetable garden, tended by Ben and his kitchen crew. Lots of colourful Brassicaceae, I said, among other things.

The interview went well, at least from my perspective. Ben was loquacious and learned and when distilled to five minutes or made a nice little outdoor element to a pilot I'm working on (with Jim Fogarty) for Radio National, RN. More of that in a later post, if by chance it gets up.

When I returned to the studio with my recordings I listened through with Amanda Smith, our producer for the pilot. Amanda was positive but looked askew when we hit the word 'brassicaceae'. What's a brassicaceae she asked. Good question I said, confessing that after telling all my guests to avoid botanical names unless explained I had slipped up on this one.


Cabbages and the like is what I told Amanda. Brussels Sprouts (photographed here are a bunch from the Farmer's Market at Abbotsford Abbey), broccoli, cauliflower, mustard and, yes, cabbage. But also Arabidopsis the experimental plant of choice by many scientists, the weedy cresses and plain but threatened species such as Ballantinia antipoda, Southern Shepherd's Purse, on Mount Alexander (and pictured below in our nursery at Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne).


Much to my own surprise I like most Brassicaceae and I've featured quite a few in my blog. I got to know them when I was writing taxonomic accounts for the Flora of Victoria, growing to love their tiny cruciate petals (the old family name was Cruciferae, after the cross-shaped arrangement of four petals).

The current wonder vegetable Kale is a Brassicaceae. It's a cultivated form of Brassica oleracea, as are Brussels Sprout, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. All variations on a theme.

Brassicaceae, as you've gathered from the membership list, are a big part of the human diet. They are generally considered to be the healthy part of a meal, carrying plenty of vitamins, fiber and minerals. DNA repairing chemicals, free radical protection and antioxidants are all ascribed to Brassicaceae. Sure some folks don't like the taste of them, but we all know they are good for us.

Stretching out in front of me at Ripponlea were some colourful cabbages. That's what I should have said, not Brassicaceae. Or better still, both. Then I could have educated, and entertained. Amanda Smith didn't really mind and in the final edit, if it ever goes to air, you'll hear me talk of Brassicaceae and other things.

Tim Entwisle

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