This story from Stephanie Tulai is a wonderful example of gardening fun.

While listening to my favourite James Blunt playlist through the “buds” on my phone as I watered my winter veg in SE Qld, I peered closer at one of my “broccolini” plants. Now I bought these seedlings as the sprouting kind so I was a bit disappointed to find they were actually the classic broccoli plants. I’m a single gal, so it makes sense to plan for picking smaller portions rather than one large one. Then I spied what was boldly peeking up at me, and my heart flipped as I saw how big one of my broccoli heads had become. ‘It’s bigger than my own brain,’ I thought. So I picked that big mother.

She weighed in at 634grams. Although it was under half the weight of an adult brain I was still impressed and, after all, I’m sure there’s isn’t much going on in a “broccoli brain.” After all nature lives and creates by other means than we do. Ironically though, it did match my current weight in kilos: 63.4 and my age is 63 also and when I first planted it I would have been 63 & 4 months ….just sayin’.

I had no idea it was even there as my raised beds are covered in bug-proof netting and I’m gazing in other places as I water and the mind wanders through loving repetition. Also none of its punnet friends were even close to this one’s unexpected magnificence as it sneaked above and beyond it’s  call of duty. It wanted to be different. Perhaps it was getting back at me for my unkind thoughts when I realised they were not what I paid for.

In honour, I named it Peter as I’m a racing car fan and Mr Peter Brock was my favourite driver when he was hot in his Holden. It deserved nothing less than a star’s name for the star it was in my world regardless of its motives.

Once in my kitchen after I had finished watering the rest of my garden, I danced with “Peter” around the kitchen to a James Blunt song called When I Find Love Again (that happened to pop up on my playlist at the time). It was like I was holding the vegetable’s version of the head of my favourite super car star (lol). Perhaps he is destined for a hot lap or two around my wok in the not too distant future. A fitting end I would say.

But as with success, even unexpected ones like that, I must also share my recent bitterness of failure, a failure to pay more attention to the seed packet details, like the actual name of it and not just looking at the picture.  I bought what I thought was broccolini. As they grew I noticed they had different leaves to any broccolini I had grown before. With watering and fertilizing they quickly flourished into tall but robust plants with heaps of sprouts and I clasped my hands together at the prospect that these could feed me for many weeks, perhaps longer. In reality they were Broccoletti Raab Rapini.  They were a mystery to me.

Before I go on to explain how the Rapini tasted there was another memorable experience of personal  tastes not to die for. It was when an ear disease, that I still have some 27 years later, first began to manifest.  I went to see a Chinese herbalist on the Gold Coast. He took my pulse as a form of diagnosis and I described my symptoms. Behind the counter were rows upon rows of massive jars of “ weird things”. It was like a scene in Rosalee and Monroe’s exotic cures shop in the Grimm tv series. But at least I didn’t feel like I had to poke anything to make sure it wasn’t alive.

I watched him weigh some of those curiosities and place them into a paper bag. I was to make a tea out of the concoction of bark, roots and well I had no idea what half of it was and drink a cup morning and night. After the first slug it took me a while to clean up the mess. It was like one of those moments at a dinner table when you take a drink and end up spraying it all over someone after they said something outrageously funny before you could swallow it.  But there was nothing funny about this moment, nothing funny at all. If someone handed me this stuff as I died of thirst in the Sahara Desert I would croak through cracked and crusted lips, ‘do you have anything else?’   Yes it was that bad. If someone took a photo of my face the moment I tasted it and froze it in time as the only image that there ever was on record of me I would not be a happy vegemite about  that either that’s for sure. And so all this is leading a trail back to my short taste experience of the Raab Rapini‘s -Taste of the Mediterranean.

I steamed a couple of stems to have with my dinner (for those familiar with it in this now diverse country of ours… remember I am thinking it’s broccolini ) and after the first mouthful the bitterness was so overwhelming my liver almost had a heart attack. I have learned since that there is a particular way to cook them with pasta that makes them more palatable and they are in the same subspecies as the turnip, hence they have the characteristic bitter taste of this group.

If I had planted a whole heap of them I would have shoved them all down the throat of my garden mulcher just so I could watch it spit it out as well. But like coriander you are either a lover or a hater and apparently there is a gene if you have it that causes cilantro aversion.  Perhaps it is the same for bitterness, some like it and some don’t but for me I have to say, I will certainly take a second look at those labels on seed packets from now on.