Be honest, is your reaction to this photo a) delicious!, b) yech!, or c) take them away because I can’t stand even looking at them? (Photo credit: Pixabay)

Be honest, is your reaction to this photo a) delicious!, b) yech!, or c) take them away because I can’t stand even looking at them? (Photo credit: Pixabay)

The Editor’s Desk: Snagging the perfect sprout

When it comes to the humble brussels sprout, the Brits don’t mess about. They mean business.

Consider the humble brussels sprout. I was planning on doing just that for my column in the Nov. 18 issue, but other events pre-empted it. However, we’re now that much closer to Christmas, the time when brussels sprouts really come into their own, by which I mean it’s the time of year when people once again have the debate about whether or not to serve sprouts as part of Christmas dinner. You know the one; it usually ends with someone clinching things by saying “We always have brussels sprouts; it’s tradition. Besides, you know how disappointed Grandpa will be if there aren’t any.”

It’s always an older member of the family who is cited for his or her love of these little green balls that look like cabbages which simply gave up at some point and called it a day, and that is why some people fear that brussels sprouts’ days are numbered. A recent survey carried out by UK grocery chain Tesco found that 75 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 aren’t fans of sprouts, which means they could soon no longer feature on the Christmas dinner plates of the nation.

I can’t say I’m surprised that it was a British grocery store that carried out this particular survey, as sprouts seem to play a much bigger cultural role in the UK than they do over here. Indeed, the closest I ever came to seeing a riot unfold in front of me came during my first Christmas living in Britain. My husband and I had gone to Sainsbury’s — another grocery store chain — a day or so before Dec. 25 to finish off our Christmas dinner shopping, and our first stop was the produce section, specifically to get some sprouts.

However, the bin where the sprouts should have been was conspicuously empty, save for a few limp and shriveled — leaves? petals? layers? — huddled forlornly in one corner, a sad reminder of departed glories. We looked around, but there were no sprouts to be seen anywhere. Ah well, we thought, that’s that. No sprouts this year. We’ll have to make do with something else.

I can’t say I was devastated. My experience with sprouts to that point was having them cooked in the English way: that is to say, boiled until they are done, and then boiled for another five minutes or so just to be sure, which results in something that you can actually wring water from, and which disintegrates into a pulpy mass at the slightest nudge of a fork. Their absence from my Christmas dinner plate was neither here nor there.

We continued with our shopping, and were about halfway around the store when a set of doors close to us swung open. A young man emerged, pushing a trolley on which sat a large bin almost overflowing with sprouts. He headed in the direction of the produce department, and like children following the Pied Piper we headed after him.

I don’t know if brussels sprouts emit some sort of sound or odour, but I swear that within seconds the whole area was positively swarming with people, jostling and elbowing their way toward the bin of sprouts. I don’t think the poor young man even managed to swap the new bin out with the old one: he simply left it there on the trolley and backed away from the melee of frenzied shoppers who were swooping in, plastic bags clutched in outstretched hands, determined to snag some sprouts no matter what. Poor fellow barely escaped with his life.

Over the years I’ve learned how to cook sprouts in a way that doesn’t involve boiling them to death (hint: roasted, or with bacon, or both, because bacon is always the answer), and enjoy them more than just once a year, although I always think of my mother-in-law’s advice about not eating them before they’ve had a frost on them, to bring out the flavour. Christmas is therefore the perfect time to enjoy them, and I must pick some up. Just don’t get in my way if they’re running low: when it comes to snagging sprouts, I’ve learned from the best.

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