Sproutless Brussels? Eat ‘Em Anyway

“We kids feared many things in those days – werewolves, dentists, North Koreans, Sunday School – but they all paled in comparison with Brussels sprouts.”
—Dave Barry, Miami Herald Columnist

I adore Dave Barry, but when it comes to the brussels sprout, he and I part ways.  There is no vegetable as beloved around our farm.

While our youngest daughter won’t eat much that isn’t pasta or apples, she does have a deep and abiding love for brussels sprouts, especially when cooked with lemon, bacon, and butter.

This year’s sprouts were planted in the ultimately unsuccessful back garden.  When we realized that the soil back there wasn’t acidic enough and that was why the squash and sprouts weren’t taking off, we transplanted as many as we could fit into the front garden.  Within days, the squash was visibly healthier and starting to take off.  Within a couple of weeks, the sprouts seemed like they might just make it as well.

As the summer turned into early fall, we were overwhelmed with squash.  Our plants were producing more than we could eat.  We brought a ton of it down to the restaurant  and processed a further ton to freeze for winter.  The brussels, however, still showed no sign of sprouting.

IMG_1381The plants looked healthy (if smaller than usual); the leaves were growing; the stalks looked firm.  There just weren’t any sprouts.  We removed the lower leaves diligently.  We watched.  We waited.


Our neighbor, Lee, came by and noted that our brussels sprouts plants looked just like his brussels sprouts plants.  We both noted that the guy growing sprouts by the road in town had plants that looked like both of ours.  Where were the sprouts?!

And then, one day, the sprouts started to form.


Our most robust brussels sprout plant and its bounty for the year

They were small at first, but we became hopeful.  As the weeks went by, we noticed to our immense shock and profound disappointment, they STAYED SMALL.  And, since they need at least six hours of sunlight to do their thing; they’ve grown all they’re gonna grow this season.

The only thing I can think to attribute this to is the low acidity of the original soil (pre-transplant).  Brussels sprouts love well-drained soil with good acidity and ours didn’t get that until too late, it would seem.  Last year’s sprouts were perfect and prolific, so I have to assume it was the venue change that did them in.  I’d have to do a soil test on Lee’s garden, as well as the guy in town to be sure, but for now, I’ll operate on my assumptions.

So, what do we do now?

Well, now we eat the plants.

IMG_1384It’s not the same, but it’s better than nothing, and I’m pretty sure Elisabeth Kubler-Ross would be proud.

Once we had grieved and mourned and flailed about wildly and torn our clothes and ultimately come around to acceptance, we went out to the garden with the shears and a basket and cut all the leaves from all the stalks.

As it turns out, the leaves are actually quite tasty.  Sadly, they don’t taste like brussels sprouts.  They taste more like other dark, leafy greens (think kale or collard greens, but with a more delicate flavor).

IMG_1385We discovered that it is best to prep the leaves for eating by first removing the thick stem in the middle of the leaf.  Cutting the leaves into strips, or smaller pieces is nice as well, because they are similar to collards in texture and smaller pieces are more pleasant to eat for both plants.  After simply sauteeing the first batch, we agreed that they would be even better if they were blanched first, as this would soften the leaves even further.

Now, we have bags of blanched brussels sprouts leaves in the freezer awaiting cooking over the winter.  The plants are no longer out in the garden, taunting us with their sproutlessness.  We have prevailed, once again, and will go on to eat another day.

About applewoodfarm

Restaurateur, farmer, bartender, beekeeper, friend, wife, mother, dog lover, cat tolerater, chicken hypnotizer, blogger, and sometime yogi
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6 Responses to Sproutless Brussels? Eat ‘Em Anyway

  1. Mom says:

    Tatum gets that from me. Yesterday I had liver and brussel sprouts. YUM!

  2. This is a really helpful post. Last winter, we tried our first batch of sprouts. They took forever and took up an enormous amount of square footage in our garden. From nine plants, we ended up with less than a pound…way less. I wish I thought to eat the leaves! Great post, thank you! 😊🌱

  3. Bill says:

    As I was out tending the brussels sprouts this morning (and debating whether to give the leaves to the chickens or follow your advice and eat them ourselves) I thought of this post. I’m wondering if y’all topped the plants. I’ve never done it myself, but I’ve read that taking out the top will encourage sprout growth and that the tops are good to eat. Ever eaten them?

    • Bill says:

      We just had brussels sprouts greens for supper (first time I’ve ever eaten them). Super delicious! Thanks for the inspiration.

    • We haven’t tried topping the plants. We came close to doing it last year, and someone urged us not to, saying that it didn’t work and that it could damage the plant. I think that might have been erroneous/exaggerated information, but in all honesty, I forgot to try it this year. If we have a similar problem with next year’s crop, I’ll be sure to give it a shot!

      I have definitely eaten them! At the end of last year, we enjoyed them mixed right in with the sprouts, They are tender and delicious! This year, we mixed them in with the heavier leaves and enjoyed NOT having to de-stem and chop the more tender tops.

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