I learned today I have a bone to pick with Thomas Jefferson. Or maybe a leafy green thing to pick with him. “Tom! What were you thinking?” Peacefully reading the news this morning, I came across a story reporting how you were the culprit, the person who introduced those dread broccoli seeds to our United States in 1767. My favorite president, no less. Why could it not have been someone else? John Adams, Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, or even Franklin Pierce? But no! It was you, Thomas Jefferson.
I have read Mr. Jefferson’s gardening persistence described as being the same as a religious reformer, an impassioned evangelist. He single-handedly introduced to our fair shores 330 varieties of eighty-nine species of vegetables and herbs, and 170 varieties of the finest fruit varieties known at the time. The list of vegetables growing in his 1,000 foot- long terraced garden includes, but is not limited to: asparagus bean, sea kale, tomatoes, rutabaga, lima beans, okra, potato pumpkins, winter melons, tree onion, peanuts, “sprout kale,” serpentine cucumbers, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussells sprouts, orach, endive, chick peas, cayenne pepper, “esculent Rhubarb,” black salsify, sesame, and eggplant.
Jefferson loved to eat vegetables, and stated they “constitute my principal diet“. It seems he also fed those veggies to anyone and everyone who visited Monticello, or the White House when he was president. I like the idea of Tom loading up George and Martha Washington or James Madison with baskets of carrots and potatoes, tomatoes and rutabagas to take home after a nice dinner at Monticello. They were very lucky if he did not also toss in a bucket or two of manure, because he was fanatical about the quality of fertilizer he threw in abundance on his garden, and shared said fertilizer, freely.
That pleasant, generous, presidential, vegetable-sharing picture having been painted, I hereby admit the challenge I face daily is, as pretty as I think vegetables are, and as wholesome and nutritious as I know they are, I never met one I liked. There, I have said it. And in the multitude of those lovely, growing above and below ground foods, the most objectionable is broccoli.
That veggie has a flavor that cannot be masked, weakened, or neutralized. And it smells worse than it tastes. Stinky, rotten smelling and tasting broccoli. I have spent all my years in a war with this nasty, cruciferous trouble maker. The earliest memory I have of it is sincerely trying to eat the boiled and smothered-in-butter version at my grandmother’s house, and realizing it would not be swallowed and go down my throat no matter how much I wanted to please her. The experience I had spoiled everyone’s chicken and broccoli meal that day, as I recall. Then, there were the numerous times I ruined perfectly good Archie comic books by smashing broccoli flat with my fork, and then hiding the ghastly remains between their pages. All I had to do at that point was surreptitiously get up from the table, put my plate on the counter, and walk away with the broccoli-loaded comic book under my arm, and make a bee-line for the bathroom, where I could dispose of it properly. Of course, the comic book would never be the same, so it, too, had to be thrown away. Small price to pay to be rid of that vile vegetable.
I wish I could say time and a matured palate had changed the response I always have had to broccoli. Unfortunately, they have not. I do not even like to look at it in the store, much less bring it into my home. And through all the years, when I asked, rhetorically, who on Earth ever thought to plant this stuff, and grow it for human consumption, I never expected to find the answer. Now I know. Thanks Thomas Jefferson, but I will pass on the broccoli!