About Cooking and Growing Brussels Sprouts

Growing Brussels sprouts takes time and patience, but when grown properly, their flavor is unmatched.

| May/June 2013

There have been several moments in the last few years where I evaluated a particular relationship in my life. Are we too in love? Do I like you as much as I used to? Am I ready to move on to something else? Certain events have led me to consider walking away from Brussels sprouts all together; the time I opened my freezer and six bags fell out onto my bare feet, for instance. It’s not unnatural to entertain the idea of prioritizing a different vegetable. Sometimes sweet potatoes catch my winking eye, and other times I flirt with the rainbow chard. The truth is that my heartstrings are tied to Brussels sprouts for a reason I wish I could explain.

Modern Brussels sprouts

It wasn’t until I realized other people shared my addiction that I really let it get out of hand. In my previous home of Chicago, restaurant menus were filled with dishes featuring my main squeeze. Happily hopping from kitchen to kitchen, I sampled them all. I dragged my friends, and I made phone calls to the chefs. “Please may I have this recipe?” I would beg. Sometimes they obliged, other times they talked softly and indirectly told me to get some help. “Maybe you should try another vegetable, too,” they would prod. “We have really beautiful green beans right now.”

One chef understood me, however. Chef David Cooper at HB Home Bistro in the Lakeview neighborhood shared my incessant curiosity about food. The day I was in his kitchen, he was boiling up a cow tongue and smoking pheasant thighs. When I told him I wanted to learn more about Brussels sprouts, he was fully onboard.

He explained that we could thank Mom for exiling the vegetable from our diets. Generations of over-steaming, over-cheesing and over-boiling made Brussels sprouts a form of childhood punishment. Fortunately, he said, chefs are finding ways to reintroduce them to Americans. As he talked, he made a raw Brussels slaw as a topper to those pheasant thighs – the vinegary medley perfectly balanced the smoky meat. A little jalapeño jam and cranberry preserves only highlighted the sprouts’ delicate characteristics.

Listening to Chef David describe his relationship with his farmer brought up questions for me. What do farmers think about this resurgence of Brussels sprouts popularity? Are people requesting this vegetable? If I was really going to get to know this cabbage relative, I needed to know where it came from. The farm was the only logical place to go.

On the farm

My investigation first led me 45 miles west of Chicago to a 3-year-old organic farm situated among lush country homes in St. Charles, Illinois.

Natalie Gould
4/23/2013 2:01:59 PM

Wendy, you're too sweet. Those were some of the most meaningful months of my life. It's important to know where your food comes from!

Wendy Slatt
4/9/2013 7:55:54 PM

Natalie, this was such an enjoyable read! And yes, count me among your converts! I wish more people could spend six months or more on a farm. Perhaps then, they too would look at the produce in the store a little differently. I'm so happy for you that you had that time and experience, and hope it's a life you'll find yourself enjoying more regularly in the future. I wouldn't give mine up for anything.

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