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Veggie Thatcher; Vilified throughout the nation in times of economic austerity Brussels sprouts have a lot to answer for, writes Lorne Jackson LIFESTYLE.

Byline: Lorne Jackson

Brussels sprouts - they've got a lot to answer for.

It was those green, flaky, mini-cabbage looking vegetables that wreaked havoc on the British coal industry, while their strict monetarist policy was largely to blame for record levels of unemployment in the early 1980s.

And let us never forget the sprouts attempt to introduce the Poll Tax.

Of course, any serious analysis of sprouts must be cool-headed and balanced; they do have their good points, too.

Charismatic leadership; pugnacious patriotism.

And - arguably the pinnacle of their long list of achievements - that magnificent victory over General Leopoldo Galtieri of Argentina in the Falklands War.

Come to think of it, may be I don't mean sprouts at all.

Wasn't all of the above achieved by Margaret Thatcher? Of course it was.

But, according to Tess Read, Margaret Thatcher and sprouts are very similar and can be easily confused.

Tess is the author of The Sprout Book.

Not surprisingly this turns out to be a book... about sprouts.

Tess likes sprouts. A lot.

Which doesn't really require over-stating.

You don't write a whole book about a particular type of vegetable matter if you are merely lukewarm to its appeal.

However, she is willing to grudgingly concede that there are large numbers of deluded and doltish people out there who may think the little green balls of veg are vile.

Which brings Tess to the Margaret Thatcher connection.

"Sprouts divide people," she says. "You either love 'em or you hate 'em. There's no in-between where sprouts are concerned. Just like Margaret Thatcher."

Which is true. Although sprouts and Thatcher do diverge in some of their more basic characteristics.

People who hate Maggie continue hating her all year round; without even taking a break for Christmas.

But during the festive period, sprouts become popular.

Teaming up with turkey, they are as much a part of the festive season as The Great Escape, the Queen's Speech, family quarrels and indigestion.

"I think sprouts are a peculiar vegetable," says Tess. "We're willing to forgive them their sins at a certain time of year. Also people's attitude to them often changes through out their life.

"I must admit, as a small child, I absolutely hated sprouts. Yeuch! But I was converted to them a few years ago by a friend who cooked them with cream. She said 'I know that you hate them, but please give them a try.'

"And do you know what? They were nothing like what I remembered as a kid. They were absolutely delicious. Completely yummy!

"I think the key to the whole thing is to make sure they're not boiled for about 48 hours, which was what my grandmother used to do when I was young."

In The Sprout Book, Tess has many quirky ideas for preparing sprouts - and there's hardly a turkey in sight.

She suggests roasted butternut squash and sprouts; sprouts and potato cakes; roasted sprouts with bacon and chestnuts; pickled sprouts; sprout soup.

Sprout flambed in kitchen sink.

Okay, maybe that last one is my own little concoction.

But it's clear Tess really knows her onions, I mean sprouts.

"You can also stir fry them with soy sauce, or saute them," says Tess. "When done properly, they taste just like a nice crunchy green vegetable."

Tess has another good argument for persuading Midlanders that they really should shout about sprouts.

They are very much a part of the region.

"Chipping Campden must be the Mecca for sprouts," she insists. "There's an annual Brussels Sprouts Festival which is held every October. And the very first one was held in Chipping Campden.

"Also, there's a restaurant in Worcestershire called the Fusion Brasserie. It's chef patron is an Italian fellow called Felice Tocchini.

"And he's sprouts crazy! In fact, Felice has developed a whole load of recipes which really bring sprouts into the twenty first century.

"He bakes a 'Sprouty Cake' and I hear he's now thinking of scaling it out to other suppliers.

"Then there's his sprout ice-creamand sprout souffle. Delicious!

"Everyone knows that kids are the hardest to convert to the ways of the sprout. But they really adore his sprouty muffins and sprouty fairy cakes.

"A lot of the recipes in my book come from Felix. He really is the saviour of the sprout."

Listening to Tess spout about sprouts, you probably would be forgiven for concluding that she is just a tad... eccentric.

But the truth is that most of the time her tongue is wedged firmly in her cheek. A good place for a tongue to be, especially after a hefty Christmas meal, when you're struggling to extract pesky flakes of sprout from all the nooks and crannies of your mouth.

Yes, Tess does love sprouts. But she is also willing to have a good old girlish giggle over her greens.

The Sprout Book doesn't just contain handy recipes for Christmas.

It also has a history of the sprout, and supplies other sorts of advice. Not all of it particularly useful.

She suggests sprouts as a table centre piece, for instance. Which involves placing them in rows or pyramids; or in circles round the candles of your choice.

Then there are sprout tree trinkets. Tess argues that your Christmas tree doesn't need to have glittering balls and a fairy on top. Instead, just dangle sprouts from the branches.

There are even sprout party games, such as Hide The Sprout and The Great Chocco-Sprouto Swap.

The latter involves buying a box of chocolates, then replacing the chocs in their wrappers with, you guessed it, sprouts.

Tess swears that she has really done this.

"They're just the greatest vegetable ever!" chuckles the London-based author. "Cauliflowers aren't nearly so adaptable, which is why I still hate them.

"I just hope my book will make people realise sprouts aren't just tasty - they're useful as well.

"They're not only like Margaret Thatcher - they're also like puppies.

"Because a sprout isn't just for Christmas - it's for life!"

The Sprout Book - A Celebration Of The Humble Brussels Sprout by Tess Read (Michael O'Mara Books, pounds 10)
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 22, 2008
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