Of all the vegetables growing in the winter garden, Brussels sprouts looks the strongest. This unusual vegetable covered with 20 to 40 baby cabbages growing close together along a tall, single stalk is topped with cabbagelike leaves. Brussels sprouts were first found growing around Brussels, Belgium during the Middle Ages, long before Brussels or Belgium actually existed. Germans call it “rose cabbage.” Harvesting and bringing these “baby cabbages” inside to cook is far superior in taste to the over-strong flavor of produce market varieties. You can begin harvesting the sprouts when they are the size of marbles and still tightly closed. Begin at the bottom of the stalk and twist of cut off the lowest ones. Brussels sprouts are even tastier if they are nipped by cold weather or frost before harvesting much like collard greens, kale and parsley.
This cancer-fighting member of the cabbage family should be planted in the cool weather garden more often. Start by seed until the end of October and transplant in compost-rich soil, allowing plenty of growing space, at least one to two feet apart. The best seed of this plant comes from either Denmark or Russia. Commercial growers plant Brussels sprouts every two or three weeks to ensure a continuous harvest. Apply a thick layer of mulch, four to six inches, around each plant. Brussels sprouts are heavy feeders that require lots of nitrogen. Sprinkle handfuls of nitrogen rich cottonseed meal over the mulch around the plants at least once a month.
Plant chamomile, pennyroyal, sage, thyme, rosemary, marigolds, petunias, and all other members of the cabbage family with Brussels sprouts to enhance their growth and protect against damaging insects, snails and slugs. Snails and slugs can be trapped under a board or old piece of carpet and disposed of in a bucket of soapy water. Or place shallow dishes of beer around the cabbage patch to attract and drown these slimy critters. Check the leaves for caterpillar damage and handpick and dispose of any you find. Hose off aphids with a stream of water.
Brussels sprouts are at their peak during the Christmas holidays and are a traditional part of the British Christmas dinner. Picture a big platter with a golden brown roasted turkey in the center surrounded with steamed Brussels sprouts that have been tossed in lemon butter, salt and pepper heaped on one side and potatoes cut into large pieces and baked in turkey drippings until golden brown, heaped on the other side of the platter. This delectable platter is served with Yorkshire pudding that has been baked in generous amounts of turkey drippings in oversized muffin tins. Brussels sprouts can be added to stir-fries, soups or to baked dishes.
Brussels sprouts should be regarded as delicate little cabbages that need very little cooking and can even be enjoyed eaten raw. Slice them thin with onions or leeks into salads and slaw and serve with red wine or apple cider vinegar, honey, salt and pepper. If you would rather eat them cooked in the traditional way, throw them into boiling salted water and let them cook for three minutes for small sprouts and two minutes longer for larger ones. They should still have plenty of crunch. If you smell sulphur, they are over-cooked and beyond repair.
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