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Brussels Sprouts: Cabbages Gone Miniature

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© Baker Creek Seed Co.

Post by William Woys Weaver

I don’t think many people realize that Brussels sprouts are not quite as old as most heirlooms go, mainly because they are a mutation that occurred on a tall, open-headed cabbage during the 1700s. This transformation occurred in a field in Belgium and since Brussels was the first market to see these novelties, they became known as Brussels sprouts.  Essentially, the cabbage began to grow little heads where it normally would have gotten leaves, and today through careful breeding we have managed to take this freak of Nature and turn it into the most amazing and tasty dishes.  The Long Island Improved variety, which was originally developed for the New York market – and a great favorite seedsman Peter Henderson, is perhaps one of the best for American gardens because it is well adapted to our climate.  It will even overwinter in many parts of the country; a little touch of frost only makes the sprouts taste all the better!

From the start, Brussels sprouts were considered a specialty crop, indeed a high end vegetable, yet it is revealing to see how readily available they are in most farm markets today – popular demand keeps them front and center. Finicky kids may turn down cabbage, but there are so many easy ways to prepare Brussels sprouts that an enticing and healthy meal can be conjured up without much resistance.  You can even cut them up and convert the sprouts into salads.

I have been experimenting with sauerkraut recipes and discovered that you can add Brussels sprouts shaved into tiny slices.  The whole effect is delicate and much different from your typical one-color sauerkraut. In fact, for a vegetarian twist, you can cook this “Brussels-Kraut” with mushrooms or even better, with chestnuts.  They also work elegantly in flans or tarts with a little grated cheese or caramelized onions. Once you put your mind to it, and think creatively, you can graduate quickly from plain old boiled Brussels sprouts and butter and explore many delicious flavor combinations that will add variety and interest to the family menu.


Of course, this all goes to suggest that you should add Brussels sprouts to your planting scheme for 2013.  The sprouts are extremely easy to grow, and they are ideal for small gardens because you can get a lot of sprouts from each plant.  If you harvest the sprouts judiciously, pulling off a few here, a few there, the plants will send out more sprouts, and you can just keep on picking all season.  If you happen to harvest all the sprouts, don’t pull up the stems.  Let them overwinter.  In the spring, they will send out another crop of sprouts, so you will have something to harvest when other gardeners are just starting to till the soil.

Get Brussels Sprouts seeds here 

William Woys Weaver is a culinary historian living in Devon, Pennsylvania, were he maintains the Roughwood Seed Collection consisting of some 4000 varieties of food plants.


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