Brussels sprouts are among the first to be planted and the last to be harvested. Because of their long tenure in the vegetable patch, I plant them in an out-of-the-way spot and try to remember to check on them from time to time.
This year, I’ve planted the posts they’ll need for support as they gain height at the same time I tucked the store-bought starts into the ground. I’ll tie the plants to the stakes as they grow.
I didn’t always like Brussels sprouts, but I didn’t always grow them, either. I grew up on the store-bought variety, which are often overgrown and old. Their already strong flavor becomes worse by overcooking – the method of choice in my childhood.
Nowadays, I eat homegrown sprouts after the first frost, when they sweeten. Usually, I roast them in olive oil; sometimes I sauté them; recently, I chopped them into a raw slaw. All good.
But I think what makes Brussels sprouts especially delicious is the long time it takes for them to grow, cultivating my patience.
At the same time I placed the six-inch Brussels sprout plants into the ground, I sowed spinach seeds and peas, both of which have already germinated. We’ll eat the spinach in a matter of weeks, and we’ll stir-fry the snow peas shortly thereafter.
The edible buds of Brussels sprouts grow slowly on a thick stalk that stands sentinel as we plant and harvest almost everything else. In a good year, I’ll serve the last of these Brassica at Thanksgiving, just after putting the garden to bed.
The Netherlands is the world’s largest producer of Brussels sprouts, and I have a Dutch friend who says they’re her favorite. She also studies the neuroscience of creativity and tells me that working with my
hands boosts mood and increases creativity. Gardening, like walking, is a head-clearing activity. Activities like these, she writes in her charming Dutch-inflected English, “Clear the head and allow new ideas to sink into your body. Ideas can fall into you again.”
Planting a vegetable garden provides me with a deep well of metaphor as well as a warm, sunny place to meditate on Brussels sprouts and the passage of time.