How to Harvest Brussels Sprouts
It’s a great reward to feast on your own homegrown produce long after summer has ended. What better way to enjoy a chilly fall evening than a dinner that includes your garden's goods?
Brussels Sprouts are packed with antioxidants (the cancer-fighting components in foods) and nutrients. They're a cruciferous vegetable, like cabbage, kale, cauliflower and broccoli, and they're equally versatile and simple to prepare. Plus, they're cute, resembling miniature heads of cabbage.
Since Brussels sprouts ripen late in the season, they're the perfect vegetable for fall meals. They are hearty and can withstand cooler temperatures than most veggiesand even some frost. Harvest the bottom sprouts from stalks first, as they’ll be the ripest, and work your way to the top. When ripe, they should be approximately one inch in diameter and have a firm texture. With a sharp knife, cut straight across where they join the upright woody stem. Most plants will produce 20 to 40 sprouts and will grow 2 feet tall or more.
Before cooking, thoroughly rinse the sprouts to make sure there are no insects living in the outer leaves. Cut off any tough stemand to allow the heat to absorb more uniformly, cut an X in the bottom of the sprout. They are usually cooked and served whole. They're delicious hot, but also are a great addition cut into quarters and mixed into cold salads.
The entire sprout is edible and tender when cooked. You can simply steam them plain and enjoy their strong, nutty flavor with no seasonings. That’s also thought to be the healthiest preparation, as it helps the sprouts retain the most of their phytonutrients. Don’t overcook, or they’ll become limp and flavorless.
Remove from heat when they reach a semi-soft texture and the color changes from bright green to a more subtle olive-green hue. You can slow cook them in a saucepan with a little butter, or you can oven roast them with olive oil to caramelize their outsides for a rich, sweet flavor. Pretty much any flavors and seasonings that complement the other cruciferous veggies will work with Brussels sprouts. Who could resist any vegetable drizzled with a creamy cheese sauce?
A classic method of preserving Brussels Sprouts for winter eating is pickling. There are many ways to pickle, from traditional sterile canning to faster, more modern techniques, and from basic dill flavors to exotic vinegars to sweet marinades. They can be stored long-term or eaten within a few hours, depending on the method you choose.
Brussels sprouts can be dried in a food dehydrator, for a quick and healthy snack. They can be blanched and frozen to store over an entire season. Entire stems with sprouts can be cut from the garden and stored short-term in a root cellar, or in small containers with proper ventilation.
Because of Brussels Sprouts’ strong flavor and tendency to get limp when canned, that isn't the most popular method of preserving. Freezing and drying are more common. If you are overloaded with sprouts and enjoy canning, experiment with pickling seasonings, to make a superb relish or cold side salad.