A succinct illustrated history of the cauliflower growing industry in the Catskills, once considered to produce the finest cauliflower to be found.
When Cauliflower Was King
About the Book
When Cauliflower Was King describes the birth, growth and demise of the cauliflower growing industry in the Catskills. It is in booklet format and contains 26 photographs and draws on information and memories supplied by more than 60 people, as well as newspapers and other period accounts.
For a good part of the 20th century, the Catskills, in particular Delaware County, grew what was widely considered the best cauliflower anywhere. Mineral-rich soil, and a moderate climate with warm days and cool nights that usually allowed slow and solid head development, made this region famous for its premium quality cauliflower.
Almost every farm in the region planted some “white gold” to supplement their income. Beginning in the 1890s, when William and Thankful VanBenschoten grew the first tentative cauliflower seedlings on windowsills at their Margaretville Mountain farm, through the 1940s, local cauliflower was shipped in huge quantities via rail and highway to ready markets in New York, Philadelphia and Boston.
Growers established marketing cooperatives in Margaretville, Walton and Bovina to increase efficiency and maximize profit. They were recognized by the distinctive labels on their wooden cauliflower shipping crates, denoting Rip Van Winkle, Pride of the Catskills, and Mountain Brands of cauliflower. An auction block which operated from the late 1930s through about 1950 in the Village of Margaretville allowed agents of produce companies to bid on truckloads of cauliflower hauled in from outlying farms.
Through the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, some larger cauliflower operations in the region hung on. Most were in the Stamford-Gilboa area. One developed a brining method in order to sell cauliflower to pickle manufacturers. The Todd family established a wholesale seedling business which remains a major international supplier of plants and products for commercial growers. In New Kingston, the Ruff family, which had first grown cauliflower in 1901 and had expanded it into a large truck farm, sending upwards of 30,000 boxes a year to markets throughout the East, ceased operations in the mid-1990s.
Today, cauliflower is no longer grown commercially in the Catskills, a fact that saddens many of those who remember when. Says Virginia McCumber, whose father, Casper Bellows, once grew acres of it in Margaretville, “People in those days didn’t realize, I think, what wonderful vegetables we had. They were the best, really.”
About the Author
Diane Galusha is a former journalist with a passion for history. She was editor of the Catskill Mountain News in Margaretville from 1989 to 1996. Diane retired in 2019 after 21 years as communications and education coordinator with the Catskill Watershed Corporation. She is author of several books of local and regional history including Liquid Assets: A History of New York’s Water System (PMP) and Another Day, Another Dollar: The Civilian Conservation Corps in the Catskills. Diane is founding president of the Historical Society of the Town of Middletown, Delaware County.
5.5 x 8.5 inches