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September 26, 2022

Brussels Sprouts: Who Knew?

By Bernie Pilarski

I know that as a child in some ways I was not normal. Then again, who is? But, as the son of a steelworker, as a child who accompanied his father to the union hall to during the 1959 steel strike to queue up for cheese and powdered milk handouts, I saw the world as a great factory. In my mind, virtually everything was manufactured in some factory somewhere. Pasta, for instance, was no doubt turned out by some pasta workers in Italy, men in dirty overalls and flour smudged faces peering out from under their hardhats, Brussels sprouts were surely stamped out of chlorophyll sheets, layered and formed into balls, then fired in a sprout kiln before being shipped to the A&P food store where my mom bought them. In this world view, I saw cows as merely farm pets and never drew a connection between them and a hamburger.

While over the years I have come to accept that pasta and Brussels sprouts are foodstuffs and that pasta is surprisingly easy to make in my very own kitchen, the sprouts remained a very exotic commodity that I assumed could only be grown in some in far off equatorial locale and harvested at great risk by indigenous peoples who used closely guarded secret methods handed down by their ancestors. You might then imagine then my surprise when in passing by the community gardens here in my hometown, I spied a planting of Brussels sprouts -- incidentally, it is "Brussels" and not "Brussel," even if one is referring to a single sprout -- looking as primitive and strange as Madagascan Baobabs. I was inflamed.

My first planting had only limited success. I really got them in way too late, and so they didn't really have time to develop properly before warm weather set in. This year however, I was a little more on the ball. Brussels sprouts are a cool weather crop, which here the Central Valley means winter crop, and should be planted in September for harvest around the first of the year. The sprouts are best (it is said) after the first few frosts. This year we got a nice harvest, cooked them up, and they were fabulous.

After I washed the sprouts and removed any unsightly leaves, I cut the larger sprouts in half and handed the whole batch over to my wife. She heated some bacon drippings* in a pan, dumped in the sprouts, seasoned with a bit of garlic and onion powder, and sizzled until you just start to see some browning on the sprouts. What a taste treat. The fresh Brussels sprouts were tender (but not mushy), and they had a bright green veggie taste that is a bit like asparagus but a little sweeter. The hint of onion and garlic add a nice depth of flavor, and the bacon drippings add a satisfying savory sensation that I'm guessing is what is called umami. The bottom line here is that, one, fresh is always better, and two, I'm definitely going to plant more Brussels sprouts this fall.

* Bacon drippings is the fat that comes out of the bacon when you fry it. If you don't save this fat for later use, you are missing out on some delicious flavors when you sauté your veggies or fry your scrapple. However, if you don't have any, or just ran out, go ahead use a bit of vegetable oil.

Article © Bernie Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2017-02-27
Image(s) © Bernie Pilarski. All rights reserved.
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