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

September 21st, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

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


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


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.


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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