By Dr Ross Cooper
Brussel sprouts originated in Belgium and have been very successfully grown in Zimbabwe with their maturity and harvesting coinciding with the cold winter months of May-July. Likewise, in Europe and the United Kingdom. they are harvested and consumed as part of a Christmas dinner with vegetables, roast potatoes, turkey, or chicken mixed with rich, warm gravy. Another popular dish is creamy sprouts mixed with chestnuts and bacon.
The two popular varieties in Zimbabwe are Long John Improved and Jade Cross Hybrid, with the latter, said to be the most delicious. They have a slightly bitter taste and are members of the brassicas (Brussels sprouts, cabbages, calabrese, cauliflowers, kale, radishes, sprouting broccoli, swede, and turnips). They are nutritious vegetables with anti-cancer properties in addition to assisting the passage of food through the alimentary canal.
Brussel sprouts bud and mature above the leaf stems of the thick-stemmed plants that can reach 60cm-1m in height. They are hard to break off and are themselves hard, tough balls surrounded by tightly packed leaves, the outer of which must be peeled off and a cross-cut in the base in order to speed up their cooking time in boiling water. They must be added to a pan containing plenty of well-salted boiling water and cooked until tender, drained, and served. Another method is that once cooked, they are immediately plunged into cold water to retain their lively green color, drained, and reheated in a pan with a little butter prior to serving. Sprouts tossed in a little melted butter or olive oil make a delicious side vegetable and any that don’t get eaten, will be perfectly sliced and combined with other vegetables to make bubble and squeak. Sprouts can also be dressed up with any number of partners, a symbolic gesture of lovers dancing arm in arm. Once steamed, they are pushed around a pan with melted butter, seasoned with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, before serving with grated Parmesan cheese. Sprouts take to various other delicious flavorings including lemon, almonds, garlic, chives, and peppercorns. They make a delicious relish-coated vegetable eaten with beef and sadza. The leaves are also an important cabbage substitute. The stem can be peeled and the inner portion diced and boiled. The top part of the plant with a chunky stem can be left intact and the sprouts nipped off as they mature. Any leftover stalks can be hung upside down to provide fine edible pecking posts for chickens or rabbits.
Brussel sprouts must be sowed in seedbeds taking 5-10 days to germinate and the following transplantation into garden beds, 26 weeks to reach crop maturity. Sowing months include January, February, and March. They grow well in a regularly de-weeded, humus-enriched nitrogenous soil and must be well-watered. Indeed, they are a vegetable that in proportion to space they occupy, and the number of pickings will yield the most edible portions. Cabbage white caterpillars, snails, and slugs damage sprout plants and can be physically removed, sprayed, or killed with slug pellets.
Background: the author is a keen vegetable grower starting from an early age having learned the skills from his paternal Grandfather, watching his father, learning from commercial farmers in Pomona, Concession, Mazowe, and Chipinge, and by being self-taught. He successfully grew vegetables in gardens in Avondale and Vainona, Harare, Zimbabwe for personal consumption and sometimes for sale to private individuals and a takeaway restaurant.
Prof. Ross G. Cooper
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