Louise Gray tells all about the hum­ble Brus­sel sprout

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

What is your favourite part of Christ­mas din­ner? Is it the turkey? The pigs in blan­kets? The cran­berry sauce? The chest­nut stuff­ing? One thing is for sure, I bet it is not the Brus­sel sprouts… Since our school days, when Brus­sel sprouts came over­boiled to the point of go­ing grey, waft­ing that fa­mil­iar sul­phurous smell, many of us have dreaded eat­ing our ‘greens’. But as we all be­come more aware of healthy eat­ing and new ways of cook­ing, sprouts are mak­ing a come­back. In fact as a sea­sonal, af­ford­able and plen­ti­ful crop, it has be­come a sym­bol of the kind of veg­eta­bles we should be all be eat­ing more of, what­ever your in­come.

Brus­sel sprouts are part of the bras­sica fam­ily (along­side cab­bage, broc­coli and cau­li­flower), that make up a fifth of Scot­land’s hor­ti­cul­tural crop. The veg­eta­bles tend to be grown down the east coast, from Aberdeen­shire to East Loth­ian, where the cool cli­mate al­lows flavour to build slowly and pro­vides a longer grow­ing sea­son. Brus­sel sprouts in par­tic­u­lar are thought to be sweet­est af­ter a frost.

Per­son­ally, I think bras­si­cas are rather beau­ti­ful, in a sculp­tural kind of way. Red cab­bage looks lovely in a low win­ter light and broc­coli is al­most blue in an early morn­ing frost. In a field of sprouts I visit in Fife, the stalks frame the Lomond hills in the back­ground.

The crop is part of this year’s Christ­mas supply grown by Ket­tle Pro­duce, one of the UK’s largest grow­ers. Ev­ery year they grow 30,000 tonnes of bras­si­cas, in­clud­ing 3,500 tonnes of Brus­sel sprouts – which is a large

per­cent­age of the to­tal Scot­tish out­put of around 14,000 tonnes.

In a field nearby the har­vester is hard at work. Work­ers sit in what looks like a mo­bile mar­quee, feed­ing the cut stalks into a ma­chine to re­move the sprouts. In a next-door field work­ers from East­ern Europe are hand-cut­ting broc­coli. Ket­tle Pro­duce are Scot­land’s largest veg­etable pro­ces­sors, with two fac­to­ries ded­i­cated to mak­ing veg­eta­bles more ‘con­ve­nient’ for the con­sumer, such as spi­ral­is­ing cour­gettes and mak­ing car­rots into spaghetti. So far, sprouts have been kept re­fresh­ingly sim­ple, al­though Marks and Spencer have added raw sprouts to ap­ple and pear juice to make a Christ­mas ‘sprout smoothie’.

It is only in re­cent years that de­mand has grown for bras­si­cas as we have re­alised the im­por­tance of cru­cif­er­ous veg­eta­bles to our diet. Like all veg­gies, they’re low in calo­ries, fat and salt. They’re also a good source of fi­bre. Brus­sel sprouts con­tain vitamins C, A and B6, as well as the im­por­tant vi­ta­min K, which pro­motes strong bones. In fact that sul­phurous smell may be what makes them so good for you – as sul­phur-rich veg­eta­bles have anti-in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties.

Su­per­mar­kets have started stock­ing new sprout va­ri­eties that are sweeter and milder, while celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver have de­vel­oped recipes that min­imise the bit­ter taste by fry­ing in but­ter and adding chest­nuts, cheese or ba­con.

Sprouts have be­come a new ‘su­per­food’ – but only for some. De­spite grow­ing world class bras­si­cas, many of our own pop­u­la­tion strug­gle to ac­cess fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles. The Scot­tish Govern­ment es­ti­mate that 16% of the pop­u­la­tion live in rel­a­tive poverty, mean­ing a reliance on cheaper calo­ries rather than fresh food. It may seem un­be­liev­able in a de­vel­oped coun­try like Scot­land but ac­cess to fresh fruit and

veg­eta­bles can be limited by price. A 2014 study found that in the UK, peo­ple on the low­est in­comes spent £1.66 on veg a week com­pared to £3.83 in the rich­est tenth of the pop­u­la­tion.

At the most ex­treme end, fam­i­lies rely on food banks, where fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles are limited. Last year the char­ity Trus­sell Trust gave out 170,000 food parcels to Scot­tish fam­i­lies in need. The food banks mostly rely on pro­cessed veg, ex­cept where ‘waste’ fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles can be redi­rected to a good cause.

This is where an­other char­ity, Fare­Share, come in. The or­gan­i­sa­tion re­dis­tributes food that would oth­er­wise be re­jected by the su­per­mar­kets and could end up in landfill. The most com­mon rea­sons are be­cause de­mand no longer ex­ists, the food is mis­la­belled or is close to the best be­fore date.

At Christ­mas, a time of giv­ing, ac­cess to food, and fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles in par­tic­u­lar, is more im­por­tant than ever. Like many food com­pa­nies Ket­tle Pro­duce do their bit by do­nat­ing sur­plus veg­eta­bles, such as Brus­sel sprouts, to char­ity. On av­er­age they donate about ten tonnes of fresh pro­duce a month to Fare­Share. That’s enough for about 250,000 meals per year for peo­ple most in need

In cen­tral and south east Scot­land alone, Fare­Share re­dis­tribute 28 tonnes of food a month, feed­ing 7,000 peo­ple a week. At the de­pot in Ed­in­burgh, you can find sacks of tat­ties, crates of car­rots, Brus­sel sprouts and cab­bages as well as bread and plenty of tinned food.

It is all high qual­ity food and it is shock­ing to think it would be wasted if char­i­ties like Fare­Share did not in­ter­cept and give the food to those in need. On the day I vis­ited Fare­Share I found of­f­cuts of short­bread (re­jected for not be­ing pretty enough), per­fectly ripe ba­nanas (con­sid­ered over­ripe be­cause of a few brown spots) and pre-pre­pared cab­bage (that was re­jected by the su­per­mar­ket be­cause a change in the weather meant peo­ple were look­ing for more salad).

Through­out the day vans left to de­liver this per­fectly ed­i­ble food to char­i­ties in­clud­ing af­ter and be­fore school clubs, food banks, homelessne­ss hos­tels, vet­er­ans’ clubs, com­mu­nity cafés, women’s refuges and food clubs. All of it will be made into de­li­cious meals.

At New­ton af­ter school club break­fast cereal is re­ceived with joy, at Leith Ba­sics Food Bank fresh veg­eta­bles are added to parcels and at St Catharine’s Con­vent in Toll­cross, which feeds up to 200 peo­ple a day, Brus­sel sprouts are re­ceived with grat­i­tude. Per­haps we could learn some­thing from all th­ese char­i­ties run by vol­un­teers? Per­haps in­stead of push­ing Brus­sel sprouts to one side on our Christ­mas din­ner plate this year, we should re­mem­ber how lucky we are.

“Last year Trus­sell Trust gave out 170,000 food parcels to Scot­tish fam­i­lies in need

Main im­age: Louise Gray feel­ing fes­tive among the sprouts in Fife.Above: A Christ­mas din­ner with all the trim­mings. Right: Healthy green smooth­ies made of or­ganic veg­eta­bles.

Above: Brus­sel sprouts are packed full of nu­tri­ents.Bot­tom: Food­bank Ware­house shelves of food.Bot­tom right: Sort­ing the tins.

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