Leave Brussels sprouts in the garden

Bob Dluzen
Special to The Detroit News

Here we are in Thanksgiving week and our stalks of Brussels sprouts are still out in the garden. The reason we leave them out for so long is to expose them to cold temperatures.

Cold temperatures help the sprouts develop a complex flavor with more sweet notes and less bitterness. Flavors began to improve right after the first hard freeze that put an end to the rest of the garden and have continued to improve up until now.

Brussels sprouts can tolerate fairly cold temperatures. Many years I've been able to leave the plants out in the garden well past Thanksgiving and sometimes to Christmas as long as it didn’t get too cold. Around 10 degrees is the low limit for Brussels sprouts.

Depending on the variety, Brussels sprouts plants can get fairly tall. Shorter varieties seem to tolerate colder temperatures better than the tall varieties.

Brussels sprouts start losing their flavor just a few days after picking, which is another reason to leave the sprouts on the plants until you are ready to cook them. Fresh sprouts from the produce department are tasty but can’t compare with those picked right from the garden.

During the past 30 years or so, big improvements have been made by plant breeders to improve the taste of Brussels sprouts. It may be time to re-try Brussels sprouts if you haven't tasted them since you were a kid.

Pick Brussels sprouts by snapping them off the plant with a twist. Remove the outer layer of leaves.

Some gardeners dig up the whole plant and save the sprouts on the stalk to pick off later. You can sometimes find Brussels sprouts on the stalk at farmers markets. 

A few supermarket produce departments are now offering locally grown brussels sprouts stalks. It’s not practical to do that on a large industrial scale because the shipping costs would be very high, considering only the sprouts are used and the remaining plant stalk is heavy and unusable.

A good way to cook brussels sprouts is to steam them until they are tender enough to be pierced by a fork, about 7-14 minutes. Some people cut a small "x" in the bottom of each stem to help them cook more evenly. Overcooked sprouts turn mushy and lose flavor and nutrients. That being said, I do know some older folks who still prefer their sprouts boiled until they are mushy.

In recent years oven roasting vegetables have become more popular. I have to admit, after years of eating boiled or steamed brussels sprouts, oven roasted sprouts are pretty darn good.

My plants will be left in the garden as long as possible again this year.  When very cold weather is predicted,  I'll pick any remaining sprouts, blanch them, and store them in the freezer. Then I’ll be able to share them with my family for Christmas dinner.