• Maureen Little

Love 'em or hate 'em?

As Christmas is just around the corner, I thought it might be pertinent that I should write about the quintessential of all yuletide vegetables, the Brussels sprout. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re as much part of Christmas dinner as Christmas pud. And this year there’s no excuse for not including them in your repast because 2020 has seen a bumper crop. The conditions were just right throughout the growing season to produce a crop that is up to 50% up on last year.

I’ve been having a look through Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book which is not only a wonderful source of tried and tested recipes, but it also contains a wealth of information about the vegetables themselves.

For example, she tells us that Brussels sprouts were being grown around Brussels (hence their name) in the Middle Ages and indeed were mentioned in the market regulations of that city in 1213. After that they are seen twice in print and then there is apparently no mention of them. Just because they are not catalogued or written of doesn’t mean they weren’t being grown and consumed by the good people of Flanders and beyond, but it was in 1818 that a certain Jean Baptiste Van Mons, a Professor of Chemistry and Rural Economy at Leuven in Belgium, gave a lecture to the Royal Horticultural Society in England. His subject: Brussels sprouts. This vegetable would have been a fairly new subject for his audience and no doubt his lecture included many learned scientific observations but he also gave some recipes.

It seems, however, that nowadays in Belgium sprouts are not held in such high regard. A couple of years ago we had a pre-Christmas break in Brugge (one of my favourite cities) and came across a stately stem of sprouts (complete with top) standing sentinel at the door of a florists. When we asked the shopkeeper whether they would become part of her Christmas dinner she looked a little vacant. It may have been our attempt at Flemish that confused her, but she muttered something about “British”, “mad”, and “dinner for pigs”.

Ah, well. It is from Professor Van Mons’s original recipe, which Jane Grigson quotes in her book, that I drew inspiration for this one. I’ve modernized it a little with the inclusion of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but it is essentially the same. If the mention of Brussels sprouts conjures up a vision of a soggy heap of grey gloop (perhaps that’s what the Belgian florist recalled), then try this recipe - I’ll wager you’ll view them in a new light!


As many Brussels sprouts as your diners require

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, very finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

2-4 tbsp balsamic vinegar

25 g butter

1 tbsp herbs (in descending quantity) - parsley, chives, thyme and savory- finely chopped


Steam the Brussels sprouts until just tender. Drain, and keep them warm.

Heat the oil in a pan, add the garlic and onion and cook until the onion is soft but not coloured.

Add the Brussels sprouts and heat through.

Add the vinegar and coat the sprouts. Add the butter and herbs, swirling the pan until the butter is melted and the sprouts are coated.

Serve immediately.

However you serve your Sprouts, I hope you have a lovely Christmas!