They were the most disliked vegetable in our kids’ summer challenge, but Brussels sprouts are back with a vengeance this year. Sprouts are one of the most challenging crops to grow organically; in fact we have given up trying on our farm. Ours come from Anthony Coker, one of our local co-op growers, and Organic Dan in Lancashire. This year the growing season has been kind and they are expecting bumper yields. A good spring helped to get the crop established and then a fair bit of luck and good management helped to avoid the cabbage aphid and white fly pests (sprouts are often more popular with pests than they are with people). Now, thanks to mild temperatures and just the right amount of rain, this year’s crop is looking and tasting fantastic – and is even a few weeks early. They will be in the boxes in the run up to Christmas, some looking dramatic on the stalk, and others loose and ready to go.
If you have never seen a field of sprouts, it is a pretty impressive sight, like a sweep of mini Christmas trees decorated with vibrant green baubles. Unlike most conventionally grown sprouts, ours are selected and picked by hand; backbreaking work for the teams out in the fields. So even if you’re one of the haters, you can take solace from the fact that you’re not growing or picking them.
In the kitchen, think of sprouts as mini cabbages (or at least use that as a ploy to get kids to eat them), so flavours that complement cabbages, like caraway, bacon and nuts, will work well. Cook sprouts as quickly as you can; it’s important to catch them before they become unappealingly soggy. To help them keep their crunch, try them in stir fries, or even shred very fresh sprouts with toasted sesame seeds and soy sauce for a quick Asian-style salad.