Brussels sprouts don’t grow in the wild, because they were invented by humans, and this unique vegetable is getting better with time.
Brussels sprouts, like other vegetables in the Brassica family, were bred from an ancient sea kale native to the coasts of Great Britain. After the Romans invaded Britannia in the 1st century BC, they imported wild sea kale back to Italy for cultivation. Viking marauders also carried wild sea kale to Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean in the 9th and 10th centuries AD.
The farmers of Europe spent the following centuries selectively breeding changes into the original plant. The leaves of sea kale were bred into cabbages, collards and modern kale. The stem was swollen into kohlrabi; the flowers were modified by the Italians into broccoli; and the buds of sea kale were enlarged by the Dutch into our modern Brussels sprouts.
All of these newly created vegetables eventually found their way to America. Brussels sprouts, however — which were a staple of the Netherlands for centuries — never gained as much popularity in the United States, as they were the most bitter of all the Brassicas.
Brussels sprouts were evolved from ancient sea kale through the ingenuity of skillful farmers. Today, the best ones of all still come from your own garden.
Spacing, 15”. Height, 18” to 36”. It’s a cool weather vegetable. Plant from transplant in October for December harvest. Plant in rich, well-drained soil. Add two to three inches of compost to soil when planting. Mix two cups native wood ash into compost. Add four cups pastured poultry manure when planting, then another four cups side-dressed when first small sprouts appear on the stem. Keep soil moist.Best varieties: Jade Cross; Long Island Improved.
Brussels sprouts grow from a single thick stem with a canopy of green leaves at the top. As the plant matures, the sprouts grow in rings from the bottom of the stem to the top. Harvest the sprouts when they are slightly larger than marbles. New sprouts will continue to appear up the stem until exposed to warm weather. Harvest sprouts quickly or they will become tough. Also harvest the leaves prior to discarding plant.
Season Brussels sprouts with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil before roasting for 40 minutes at 400F. Even better, add some torn bacon and brown sugar to the mix for a sweet and savory version. Shaved Brussels sprouts come together to make a quick and easy slaw with chopped nuts, dried cranberries and a little Mayo with a dash of vinegar.
Brussels sprouts have always been the most bitter of all the Brassicas. Then, in the 1990s, a scientist named Hans van Doorn identified the chemical compounds in Brussels sprouts that cause the bitter taste, and worked with seed companies to breed these bitter compounds out of modern Brussels sprouts. Thanks to his work, modern Brussels sprouts are mild, delicious and rising in popularity in European and American kitchens.