What’s in the Garden Now- Brussels Sprouts

By Les Harrison, Wakulla County Extension Director and Shelley Swenson, Wakulla County Family and Consumer Sciences Agent.

The winter of 2013/14 will long be remembered for being a cold one.  The January 2014 storm sent temperatures plummeting and brought Wakulla County a rare ice storm where sleet actually accumulated on plants and trees, structures and vehicles.

It might seem strange, but there was successful vegetable gardening ongoing during this unusually harsh weather.  Brussels sprouts came through the recent cold and ice with barely a notice.

The Brussels sprout is in the same plant family as collards, kale and broccoli. This hardy vegetable is a cultivar in the Gemmifera group of cabbages, Brassica oleracea, which are grown for their edible buds.

The mature Brussels sprout look like tiny cabbages and are about the size of a half-dollar coin. The edible buds grow on the plants main stalk and are composed of layers of tightly wrapped leaves.

Plants will grow up to three feet tall with large, pale green leaves which protect the tender buds from exposure to sun and other threats.  The crop matures and is ready for harvest in about 90 days.

As the name implies, Brussels sprouts historically have been a popular and dependable crop in Belgium for hundreds of years.  The country’s location in the northern latitudes of western Europe near the North Sea has required this food staple to be tolerant of cold and icy weather.

Likely spread by Roman traders a millennium ago, this delicacy is widely cultivated in much of northern Europe where menu options were few during winter in the days before high speed trade.  Each locale had its own special recipe with seasoning.

French colonial settlers brought the Brussels sprouts to the new world when they settled Louisiana in the early 18th century. They also took it to the Canadian province of Quebec, where it proved a dependable cool season crop.

Today most domestic Brussels sprout production occurs in California, with pockets of production in Washington and New York.  A common site in the frozen food section of super markets, about 15 percent of the total crop is sold as fresh, unprocessed produce.

When selecting fresh Brussels sprouts from the garden or the market, choose firm, compact, bright green heads. They may be refrigerated in a plastic bag to up to one week for peak quality.

This vegetable is an ideal food nutritionally since it is low in fat with no saturated fat. It is also very low in sodium, cholesterol free, low calorie and a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C and folate.

In modern America the important nutritional value has been compromised, in some opinions, by the taste. Plant breeders and seed companies have worked on developing a Brussels sprout cultivar which satisfies the contemporary palate.

For tasty up-to-date and innovative recipes and preparation ideas, visit the Family and Consumer Sciences section of the UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension website, http://wakulla.ifas.ufl.edu/fnc/

Brussels sprouts are currently growing in the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension demonstration garden on Cedar Avenue.  Visitors are welcome.

For more information on Brussels sprout production, view http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mv034 or call the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Office at 850-926-3931.

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