We had our first frost this morning. With the mist drifting off the river to hang in the valleys while the sun, bright for the first time in weeks, rose high enough to burn it off, it felt good to be alive. It felt even better to be growing vegetables. Apart from lifting our spirits, the cold and bright weather promised for the next ten days brings further relief. Firstly it will slow down the growth of leeks, cabbage, kales and cauliflowers which are getting ahead of themselves, threatening to overwhelm us now and fall short later in the winter. Secondly, we might just get enough dry weather to harvest the last of the carrots and potatoes.
Brussels on stalks
My mother grew just about everything in her garden but there was no place for Brussels sprouts which she loathed, making the annual concession to Christmas lunch only if well disguised with bacon and chestnuts. Consequently when I sowed my first crop in 1987 I had no idea that so many of those ping-pong ball mini cabbages would appear on the plant. It was truly a revelation to find them emerging in a spiral up the stem from the crook above each leaf.
It’s what’s on the inside that counts
Without the barrage of fungicides and insecticides that protect conventionally grown Brussels sprouts from germination to harvest, ours are never cosmetically perfect. However, though yields are low, these slowly grown organic sprouts do tend to taste better, rewarding the effort occasionally needed at the sink to take off some outer leaves.
With their extraordinary palm-tree like shape, a good crop of sprout plants is a fine sight in the field, and when we packed our first veg boxes I was inspired to include the whole stalk. Yes, sprouts on the stalk were my idea (before other retailers got in on the act), and they are in some boxes this week and next. May their double-helix geometry be as pleasing to you as it still is to me, twenty-six years after that first crop.