Valley Bounty: Brussels Sprouts

The wet weather last year was a disaster for fall crops. But this year, farmers around the Valley are reporting that more favorable conditions are ushering in a delightful autumn bounty. I recently asked Sarah Voiland, who owns Red Fire Farm in Granby and Montague with her husband Ryan, how the Brussels sprouts season is going. “This year they’re looking beautiful,” she said.

Voiland and her crew began harvesting Brussels sprouts in mid-October, but the crop was first transplanted into their fields way back in May. “They grow out in the field all summer and we finally are having nice little sprouts by this time of year,” Voiland explained. As payout for their long growth cycle, the harvest window for Brussels sprouts can last upwards of two months. “They get sweeter as it gets colder, until we start getting really hard frosts,” Voiland told me. “So hopefully we’ll have them into mid-December.” I asked if the plants are able to put on growth during this cold, low-light time of the year. “It’s slow going. They may grow a little, little bit,” she said with a laugh. “You want to get them up to size, that’s why we start them so early. Then they have that long period to grow and they’re sized up enough so when the light gets low and they’re not taking on a lot more size, you can hold them in the field and they keep on taking in that sweetness into December.”

If you’ve only ever bought Brussels sprouts in a grocery store, you may not realize that the sprouts grow off the side of a thick stalk. CSA and farmers’ market growers, like Voiland, will typically harvest Brussels sprouts by cutting the stalk at its base, trimming off the leaves, then selling the plant as-is. This saves her team precious time. Plus, having the stalk can be a benefit to her customers too. “You take it home, take the sprouts off, and then you can use it to protect yourself from burglars,” she joked. “But I’ve also heard from chefs that you can roast it in the oven and the inside of the stalk is tasty. Once the stalk is roasted, you slice it down the middle and then scoop out the insides. It’s kind of like a bone marrow experience, but a vegetable marrow,” Voiland explained.

For those looking for a more traditional Brussels sprouts recipe, Voiland recommends her balsamic honey Brussels sprouts. Put a quart of whole Brussels sprouts in a large skillet with two chopped carrots, olive oil, and a little water. Cover the pan and steam them on medium heat until the vegetables are tender. Then remove the cover and stir in 2 tbs of balsamic vinegar, 2 tbs of honey, and a sliced onion. Add salt and pepper to taste and cook until the mixture takes on a nice browning. It’s perfect as a quick, seasonal side dish.

Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)