Tag Archives: Brussels sprouts

Guy’s news: Stunted growth, spotty sprouts & Sevilles

It’s wild, wet and windy out there. The sun, when we see it, barely reaches the north-facing fields even at midday. If I were a bear, I would find a warm cave and take a nap. Nothing grows in the first two weeks of January, but the stunt doesn’t last long. By the end of the month, kales, leeks and cabbages will begin to grow again as the days start to draw out and the noon sun starts to climb. On our French farm, just 200 miles south, we’ll be planting lettuces before the end of the month. I can’t explain it, but even growers in areas like southern California, where their winter is similar to our summer, avoid sowing in early January. A druid might put it down the need for solar rebirth; a bear might take it as a chance for a nap.

I once got berated as a heartless bully by a number of you for being unforgiving about the repeated failures, and consequent lack of quality, of one of our cauliflower growers (Mr M for those who remember). I ate humble pie, apologised, and we went on buying his caulis, but it made no difference in the end; he continued to hope for the best rather than weed his crop, and went bust soon after. It might have been kinder to be harder sooner; it is a hard judgement to know when to stop working with a grower. Riverford is extraordinary within our industry for the long-term relationships we have with suppliers. It’s something I feel very proud of and hope survives me, but sometimes the farm or the farmer is wrong for the crop and no amount of ethics or support will change the inevitable outcome; it just prolongs the agony and undermines other growers. If you were one of the 20% of customers who had to trim small, spotty Brussels sprouts this year, I am sorry; it was the third year of poor sprouts from this grower, but we won’t give up on him quite yet.

On a lighter note, to mark two more successful long-term relationships, the first blood oranges from Sicily and Sevilles from Ave Maria Farm in Mairena del Alcor have arrived and are as excellent as in previous years. Now is the time to make marmalade. You can even cook alongside me on our YouTube channel if you need a little guidance.

Guy Singh-Watson

Five favourite recipes for brilliant brussels

Convert any sprout sceptic with these bold and brilliant recipes for brussels. Simple and quick to make, these dishes are great served as a side, or even to eat on their own by avid sprout lovers!

We’ve got five of our tried and tested recipes and a handy video to help you get the perfect brussels sprouts every time!

Brussels sprouts video thumbnail


Brussels sprouts with brown butter and almonds

Rich, sweet and indulgent. This way of preparing the little green veg gives it an extra crunch and texture with the addition of flaked almonds.

roasted brussels with sage & chestnut butter


Sprouts with chestnuts and bacon

A more traditional way of serving brussels, this dish is just the thing to serve up on Christmas day. The warm chestnut and bacon flavours are great for tempting sprout haters.

Roasted brussels sprouts and caramelised onions

This recipe is a simple way of using up any left over sprouts and is great served with the last of the turkey and plenty of gravy. Once roasted the caramelised onions will work wonders bringing out the natural sweetness of the sprouts.

brussels sprout, red onion & blue cheese gratin


Brussels sprouts with horseradish

Give your sprouts a bit of oomph with this fiery dish that’s not for the fainthearted. Add as much horseradish as you dare!

Brussels sprouts with bacon and almonds

This recipe is pure comfort food. Sweet, salty, warm, rich and with a bit of bite. Try with mash potato for an easy and filling lunch dish.


guy’s newsletter : a sprout crisis & a mistletoe gift

Brussels sprouts are among the most challenging crops to grow organically; they require a rich soil, a long growing season and are highly prone to fungal disease and, to a lesser extent, aphids and slugs. To spread the risk and prevent letting you down on the big day, we have split the crop between our farm in Yorkshire and organic growers in Lancashire and East Anglia. Here the colder, drier weather reduces the risk of fungal disease, which we felt was a better idea than expecting you to peel spotty Devon sprouts for Christmas. At the end of October it seemed like a smart plan but an incredible nine inches of November rain leached away most of the nitrogen below the rooting zone of the soil, bringing growth to an abrupt stop; it now looks like we will have a very small crop of very small sprouts. With a bit of work we still reckon we can find enough for the Christmas week vegboxes though, so no cause for panic.

We have finally had a proper frost which will improve the flavour of our parsnips and might slow the rampant growth of leeks, cabbage and kales, all of which are two to four weeks ahead of schedule. Some of you will get pain de sucre (also known as sugar loaf chicory) from our French farm over the next few weeks; looking a bit like a pale pointed cabbage but related to and tasting like a mild radicchio, they can be eaten in salads or cooked as you might endive.

When not cutting pain de sucre or pak choi from our tunnels, our team in France have been busy harvesting mistletoe from the hedges on our neighbours’ farms. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows on a range of hosts, but particularly favours poplar and is very common in France. If left unchecked it can kill the tree so over the next couple of weeks we will be trimming the huge balls into sprigs which, all being well, will be in your boxes as a Christmas present the week commencing 8th December. Just in case anyone thinks this is my latest culinary craze, I better assert that mistletoe is poisonous and that this gift is intended to encourage revelry rather the culinary experimentation.

Guy Watson

guy’s newsletter: first frost & the geometry of sprouts

We had our first frost this morning. With the mist drifting off the river to hang in the valleys while the sun, bright for the first time in weeks, rose high enough to burn it off, it felt good to be alive. It felt even better to be growing vegetables. Apart from lifting our spirits, the cold and bright weather promised for the next ten days brings further relief. Firstly it will slow down the growth of leeks, cabbage, kales and cauliflowers which are getting ahead of themselves, threatening to overwhelm us now and fall short later in the winter. Secondly, we might just get enough dry weather to harvest the last of the carrots and potatoes.

brussels on stalks

My mother grew just about everything in her garden but there was no place for Brussels sprouts which she loathed, making the annual concession to Christmas lunch only if well disguised with bacon and chestnuts. Consequently when I sowed my first crop in 1987 I had no idea that so many of those ping-pong ball mini cabbages would appear on the plant. It was truly a revelation to find them emerging in a spiral up the stem from the crook above each leaf.

it’s what’s on the inside that counts

Without the barrage of fungicides and insecticides that protect conventionally grown Brussels sprouts from germination to harvest, ours are never cosmetically perfect. However, though yields are low, these slowly grown organic sprouts do tend to taste better, rewarding the effort occasionally needed at the sink to take off some outer leaves.

With their extraordinary palm-tree like shape, a good crop of sprout plants is a fine sight in the field, and when we packed our first veg boxes I was inspired to include the whole stalk. Yes, sprouts on the stalk were my idea (before other retailers got in on the act), and they are in some boxes this week and next. May their double-helix geometry be as pleasing to you as it still is to me, twenty-six years after that first crop.

Guy Watson

What’s what in the box – 6th December 2010

In this week’s video, Guy talks about brussels sprouts.

what’s what in the box – 6th december 2010

Bumper Brussels

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.

order sprouts from Riverford