“Take the tender flower buds of the cauliflower, pickle lightly in brine, and then sun dry. Braise the dried cauliflower with the pork.”
Is the pork here being braised with dried semi-pickled cauliflower? Maybe. The section title refers to the vegetable as caihuatou (菜花頭), which translates to “the head of the vegetable flower”. In modern Chinese, cauliflower is known as “caihua” (菜花), so we may be tempted to say that caihuatou means “a head of cauliflower”. But the problem is we do not know whether our cauliflower today was known with the same name during Qing dynasty. Indeed the first few words of the section translates to “Take the tender buds of a taixin vegetable” (用台心菜嫩蕊), which clearly indicates that the name of the vegetable that bears a head-like mass of flower buds came from a vegetable variety known as “taixin” (台心菜). So what exactly is this vegetable?
While a Google search for “taixin” proved unfruitful, Yuan Mei’s descriptions had already narrowed the possibility of vegetables down to two types, namely broccoli and cauliflower. The next step is more or less a guess, but considering that name of the floral portion of the vegetable (菜花) used by Yuan Mei is now used to refer to the modern cauliflower, perhaps this could be taking as some sort of evidence that the cauliflower was indeed taixin vegetable.
So yes, after all that blabbering I’m saying it’s cauliflower after all.
In any case, this recipe is rather interesting in that the cauliflower was prepared by first being lightly pickled and dried before used in braising. This is somewhat similar to meigancai (霉乾菜), a type of fully pickled dried leaf mustard that is famously used in the braised pork dish Meicai Kourou (梅菜扣肉), lending its delicious savoury aroma to the pork. Perhaps Yuan Mei’s dish was equally good?