Brussels Sprouts

Christmas Means Brussels Sprouts! 

Are you Christmas ready? Just a few weeks to go to see the family and friends you missed out on last year. Presents? Tree (eco-friendly of course)? Turkey ordered? Decorations ready? Cards ready to post? Yes, “tick” to everything, but what about the most important thing? The glue that sticks everything together, the small, but probably the most significant thing of all? Yes, I am talking about the Brussels sprout, that little gem of flavour which has come in for some criticism over the years.

Start Cooking Them Early…or Not!

The legendary broadcaster, Terry Wogan, used to joke about getting the sprouts on early to make them edible. Sometime in August was always his recommendation. But those who love these healthy little vegetables know very differently. They are a member of the cabbage family; each individual sprout is in fact a bud, awaiting its chance to swell and grow and ultimately flower to produce seeds and start the cycle all over again.

Grown Around Brussels

They were first introduced into Europe in the 5th century and cultivated in the 13th century in significant numbers in Belgium. This was around the area of Brussels where their name was derived. The Latin name for the species is Gemmifera meaning “bud producing” and, once set, they grow slowly and are an ideal harvest from September through to March where we wave them a fond farewell until the following season.

Not the Children’s Favourite

As a child I disliked them, noting they always seemed a little bitter but, in recent years, the bitterness has been bred out of them; indeed after a good frost they become almost sweet! They are extremely nutritious if you include them as part of your “five a day”. My own daughter didn’t take to them when she was small, but when they were described as “baby cabbages”, she polished them off thinking they were indeed of that species.

Television chefs have increased their popularity in recent times by frying, adding bacon or chicken, putting them in a cream sauce, but they are not the favourite vegetable of the Millennium generation.

A square china plate containing Brussels sprouts cooked with bacon.
Brussels sprouts with bacon – Wheeler Cowperthwaite; Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

The cost of these little gems has risen in recent years as it’s time-consuming picking them by hand. Realistically it’s only the supermarkets who dictate the low cost; as you get identical sorted and washed and peeled varieties, you do wonder what the waste is during the preparation process.

A stalk full of plump Brussels sprouts.
Brussels sprouts on the stalk – photo by the author

A few years back, local farmers came up with a solution to make buying sprouts more cost effective: they would employ 30 people to pick and bag millions of individual sprouts.

This was not really cost effective; it became the norm to just cut the stalks completely and sell them individually so the labour force could be reduced by two thirds, and once again they became a cost-effective accompaniment to a meal.

TV Chefs Added Their Stamp

Then TV chefs climbed on the bandwagon and suddenly sprout tops became fashionable, pan fried with garlic and so on, but this didn’t catch on as most tops were damaged by hungry pigeons so not aesthetically attractive.

More Ways Of Cooking Brussels Sprouts

I have been asked how I like my sprouts: well I enjoy them best two ways, firstly with the traditional roast dinner and, more lately and probably gross to most people, sprout masala with a side of curried cauliflower.

So get out there folks and buy your sprout stalks soon: they keep best outside in a bucket of water. Have a fantastic Christmas and remember to put the used stalks in your garden or food recycle bin.