What’s Kyle got this month? Brussels sprouts
Last month we were growing broccolini but time marches on and now the Brussels sprouts are ready. We need to know what Brussels has to do with this vegetable and whether the Brexit negotiations will require the name to be changed. An interesting fact that is repeated over and over again when one looks for information about Brussels sprouts is that the first reference to Brussels sprouts is in 1587. Even the Encyclopaedia Britannica (which at one time was the Source of Absolute Truth) quotes this date. Yet none of these sources provides the original source for this.
There were a few interesting things that happened in 1587; for example, Queen Elizabeth I signed the death warrant for Mary Queen of Scots. They are called Brussels sprouts because, so far as I can find, they were first propagated near Brussels. Now this seems odd to me; why Brussels? Was there some brilliant horticulturalist who decided that he would breed these sprouts? Did people take to this new vegetable so quickly and willingly that it spread out across the world? Wikipedia tells me that Brussels was founded in “around 979”. I cannot say what “around 979” means; I think it means at about the turn of the first millennium. Brussels was certainly around a long time before Belgium (about 1830) and before the European Union (1 November 1993, the Common Market was formed in 1957)).
We might still, however, ask what is the relationship between Brussels sprouts and the European Union and whether this might have anything to do with Brexit. I am sure, Gentle Reader, that you are thinking that I have lost the plot but wait. A little research around this uncovers the existence of the Community Plant Variety Office of the European Union. On 1 December 2015 it published a document entitled “Protocol for Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability Tests: Brussels Sprout”. The document is one that should be read only by those who have a problem sleeping. It is twenty pages of the sort of stuff that may well have led the British to say “enough is enough; it is time to leave.”
Perhaps the document was borne out of the need to standardise among the 110 varieties of Brussels sprout. No doubt you thought there was but one sprout variety. But the Plant Variety Office does have two important things to say that are illustrated below.
The document (which you can find here) is about testing sprouts. I am not quite sure what they are tested for but the document says that “a candidate will be considered to be sufficiently stable when there is no evidence to indicate that it lacks uniformity.” Perhaps were we in Europe we would be reassured to know that our sprouts were stable.
But we are not in Europe; we are at Kyle’s block where there is an array of sprouts that would pass any test set by any Plant Variety Office anywhere. Kyle’s sprouts are of acceptable shape and what columns, oh! what columns. I helped him pick a few. Actually, that’s not true; he picked them and I watched. Picking sprouts is a labour-intensive activity. “I planted these out in March,” he said, “though that’s a bit late. It should have been February.” It takes 6 to 8 weeks to raise a seedling from seed so they started just after Christmas. In fact, the cycle is longer even than this because the compost that produced the seedlings would have been prepared some months before that. The sprout is a winter crop. Kyle says “you need to get as much growth from the plants in the warmer weather as their growth slows dramatically as it gets colder.”
Above: Sprouts a'sprouting
In England, as I well remember, the sprout is as essential a component of one’s Christmas dinner as the turkey and the roast potatoes. There are two reasons for this that I can discover. The most likely (and I am indebted to a blog called Notes From The UK for this) is that the Ancient Druids worshipped the Brussels sprout. The less likely reason is that, in the UK, sprouts ripen about Christmas time. My childhood home was no different from millions of others; on Christmas Day we had sprouts. My mother would boil them to death and they would lie on the plate as a collection of unappetising yellow green blobs. This is not a comment on my mother’s culinary abilities, which were immense, but on the prevailing wisdom of the day; vegetables were boiled for twenty minutes. Today we know that we want to find small sprouts, the smaller the better. The small sprouts are sweet and tender. You can eat them raw (whole or probably chopped) or you can lightly fry them in something (like butter or oil). Why not try taking a few small sprouts and halving them. Fry them flat side down in some walnut oil. Don’t turn them but leave them until they are slightly brown and then sprinkle over some crushed walnuts. Serve them up.The G and I have been experimenting with some more adventurous sprout recipes and we have selected this one for your delight and delectation. I think it’s the sugar that makes the difference Brussels sprouts, capsicum and baby new potatoes
Ingredients (serves 4) 500gm baby new season potatoes 300gm Brussels sprouts 1 moderately sized red capsicum, diced into 1 cm squares 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped 2 tablespoons rosemary, finely chopped 1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 dessertspoon Rapadura sugar ¾ teaspoon sea saltfreshly ground black peppe r¼ teaspoon chilli flakes (optional) Method Preheat the oven to 200°C (or 180°C fan) and line a baking tray with parchment paper Rinse and scrub the potatoes and cut them to about the same size as the Brussels sprouts Put the salt, pepper, garlic, Rapadura sugar, olive oil and chilli flakes into a bowl and then add the potatoes, capsicum and Brussels sprouts. Toss with your hands to combine and then spread everything evenly on the baking tray