Brussels Sprouts

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

Brussels sprouts Brassica oleracea, Gemmifera group, a many-headed subspecies of the common cabbage. The main head never achieves more than a straggly growth while many miniature head buds grow around the stem. (The phenomenon may sometimes be induced in a normal cabbage by cutting off the top before the head has formed.)

Some authors have referred to the possibility that they were known in classical times, and cite stray references from Brussels in the 13th century and documents about wedding feasts of the Burgundian court at Lille in the 15th century. However, sprouts only became known in French and English gardens at the end of the 18th century and a little later in N. America, where Thomas Jefferson planted some in 1812. Jane Grigson (1978) comments that in modern times Brussels sprouts have become quite prominent in Britain as accompaniments to the Christmas Turkey, game, etc. Having done some sleuthing in 19th-century cookery books, she records that:

As far as I have been able to find out, Eliza Acton was the first in England to give a recipe in her Modern Cookery of 1845. In fact she gives several suggestions in one recipe, including the Belgian style of pouring buttery sauce over them, or tossing them in butter and a spoonful or two of veal gravy; she says that this is the Belgian mode as served in France, which makes one conclude that she had eaten them when she had spent a year there as a young girl round about 1820.