Toward a Bigger Brussels Sprout: Special Guest Post by John Miller…

September 21st, 2010 § 3 comments

Hands up to all whose first reaction was: “Why brussels sprouts at all?”. And now a tip as to how to make them bigger? I can not think of another vegetable so reviled. They also seem to be the poster child for unimaginative marketing; having been promoted as an unappetizing vegetable, forced upon us by mothers and nutritionists. Of course, I may be genetically pre-programmed to like them. Growing up in the U.K., where 1% of the world’s population consumes over half of the world’s brussels sprout production, the enjoyment of this vegetable may simply be in my blood. I am, however, completely unapologetic in my taste for them!

Recently, research has shown that brussels sprouts have even higher amounts of the same beneficial compounds found in kale, which have made that leafy-green (as well as the other brassicas) so popular of late. And even if you don’t care for the flavor of brussels sprouts as a side dish, they can be easily combined with other ingredients or cooked in ways which make them more palatable. If you haven’t experimented with the wide variety of dishes that include this vegetable, perhaps now is the time to give it a go (see hearty soup recipe posted below)!

Top growth of plant, before removal

The tip itself? Botanically, brussels sprouts are buds found in the leaf axils of the upright stalk. The lower ones come to size first. This is due to the physiology of the plant —indeed of many plants— where the top growing point suppresses growth of the lower buds. This influence declines as the distance between buds increases. By nipping out the growing point (top of the plant) the remaining high buds will come to size more quickly. This technique is very helpful in areas with shorter growing seasons. I remove the growing point on my brussels sprout plants about three weeks before the anticipated date of the first autumn frost (check with the Farmer’s Almanac for this date in your area). By controlling the plant’s production in this way, I am able to clean-pick each four-foot-tall plant by early November, just before the nights dip below twenty degrees in Vermont…

After topping the plant (note the tiny buds, now visible)

Cut brussels sprout tops on the way to the steamer (Yes, they are edible too!)

My favourite Brussels sprout recipe, taken from the Sunday Express sometime in the mid 1970’s. Regrettably I did not cut out the by-line so cannot acknowledge the author of this wonderful dish. I have carried the recipe around with me since then, even crossing an ocean with it.

Leek and Brussels Sprout Soup

Ingredients:

1/2lb of Brussels sprouts,  trimmed* (see note below) and cooked al dente (very important)

2 small leeks (or one larger one)

2 pints of stock (homemade vegetable or other choice)

1 Tbs of butter

1 Tbs of flour

Pinches of nutmeg and curry powder ( I add a big pinch of both!)

Salt and pepper to taste

A few drops of lemon juice

Directions:

Cook leeks in butter until soft but not brown. Stir in the curry powder, sprouts and flour. Add stock and bring to boil. Simmer two minutes. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Blend everything together, then add lemon juice and adjust the seasonings. Enjoy.

*Note: it is a matter of heated debate in the U.K. whether a cross should be made in the bottom of each sprout prior to cooking.

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Article and noted photos ⓒ 2010, John Miller of The Old Schoolhouse Plantery

Thank you John, for your contributions to The Gardener’s Eden! In addition to operating The Old Schoolhouse Plantery, the Millers also grow and sell gourmet produce, including many heirloom vegetables. The Miller’s produce may be found in Vermont at The Brattleboro Farmers Market.

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§ 3 Responses to Toward a Bigger Brussels Sprout: Special Guest Post by John Miller…"

  • todd n mississippi says:

    i have tried repeatedly to grow brussels sprouts with zero success. i live in mississippi (zone 7), please give me pointers as to when to plant seeds and how to make the plants produce once they get going ! my daughter and i just love these little jewels but have to buy them at the store. i grow the majority of the veggies we eat in a year.

  • Brussels sprouts are easily my favorite vegetable. They take up too much space for me to grow in my tiny garden, but I can hardly wait til they start to show up at my local farmers market and in my CSA. Thanks for the soup recipe—if mine can last long enough to make it into a soup, I’ll give it a try.

  • John Miller says:

    For Todd: With my perception of a Mississipi summer I can only admire anyone trying to grow Brussels sprouts in your climate. You don’t say if you propagate your own seeds but when I go to a garden centre and see plants tagged with a generic Brussels sprouts tag I always assume they are an older OP variety. With Brussels sprouts being such an orphan vegetable I sometimes think nurserymen wish to economise on seed purchases and tend to offer non hybrids. So my first tip is to make sure that you use a hybrid (not withstanding my previous post on saving heirlooms!). I sow mine in mid March but you could wait a month so that your plants aren’t too big come fall (this will reduce windrock of tall plants). Damage the roots at transplanting! If you can’t bear to deliberately damage a carefully nurtured plant then if you propagate your own plants in plugs the roots will be trimmed by air for you. This will give a much better root system, especially if you severe the tap root, and promotes more fertiliser uptake. You don’t want to know what my vegetable crop lecturer did to some seed bed grown plants when illustrating the traditional (pre-plug days) way of transplanting Brussels sprout plants but it did produce much sturdier plants. I will say no more than top’n’tail! Brussels sprouts are heavy feeders so fertilise generously and top dress with pure N about 2 months before first frost (I use a handful, per plant, of cottonseed meal because of it’s long release period). They also need copious amounts of water so regular watering will help. I hope this helps.
    For NW: If it helps you, dwarf varieties of Brussels sprout are available. Many in the U.K. also struggle with restricted garden space so breeders have long catered to spatially challenged Brussels sprouts affionados!
    I don’t know where you live but if you are in a warm enough climate I would suggest you get your suppliers to grow some Red Brussels sprouts, if they don’t already do so. They are divine (hyperbole, where?). Todd could also try them and they may prove more successful as they have a longer growth time and may miss summer’s heat.

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