Hail to the Sprout

You either love them or hate them. There doesn’t seem to be any middle-ground on the subject of Brussels sprouts. I’ve given up trying to convert picky eaters. I figure their culinary prejudice is their loss and my gain.476253453

A new crop of Brussels sprouts arrives at the farmers’ market this month, right along with dates, figs, and pomegranates (I’m convinced this is nature’s way of softening the blow that summer is almost over). There’s no point in waiting until Thanksgiving to start enjoying these gifts of early autumn. Be the first on your block to get them while they’re young and tender!

The only thing I don’t like about Brussels sprouts is their name. Brussels? Really? Anyone who has driven through California’s cool-weather regions knows that long ago we staked claim to these tiny cabbage-like veggies. Just as the once-imported Belgian endive has now become California endive (from our very own Rio Vista), I think these cruciferous cuties deserve an updated moniker. But hey, that’s just me.

Brussels sprouts have gotten a bad rap from the poor cooking methods used by our unwitting ancestors. Even I will admit that a pot of sprouts boiling away on top of the stove produces an unappetizing aroma (and I’m being really diplomatic here) that is enough to scare off both children and adults. Fortunately there’s an easy fix. Sprouts actually smell divine when roasted in the oven. Who knew? To serve them as a side-dish at dinner, just follow Step 1 of the recipe below. They will rock your world.

For better or worse, family recipes have been passed down for generations. The internet now provides access to the wisdom of good cooks all over the world. Okay, there are some horrible recipes out there, but for the most part, the internet is an endless source of information.

Following is my adaptation of a recipe found on the very reliable www.food52.com. The headnote to the recipe explains the creator had wanted to duplicate the flavors of an appetizer she enjoyed at a New York restaurant. Well, I’ve never been to that restaurant but I tried her interpretation and liked it. A lot. Then I tweaked it a bit to create my own version….and so another recipe was born. Once you try these, you may decide to put your own touch on them…and that’s fine. Just make them.

One of the ingredients I use is something you won’t find on a grocery shelf, but it’s very easy to make. Years ago I was introduced to garlic honey by L. John Harris, luminary in the Berkeley food scene of the 1970’s and author of The Book of Garlic and The Official Garlic Lovers Handbook. I shared his recipe in this column a couple of years back, but it deserves repeating. I rank its creation right up there with the invention of the wheel. I am simply crazy about the way garlic lends its punch to good local honey, adding an unexpected dimension to savory recipes.

The next time you gather with friends, serve these Crispy Brussels Sprouts with drinks. It’s a fool proof way to separate the lovers from the haters.

Sprouted Thoughts

–Brussels sprouts are believed to have first been cultivated in 16th-century Belgium.
–Look for small, bright green sprouts with compact heads and no yellowing. The smaller the sprouts, the more tender they will be.
–If you buy sprouts that are still on the stalk, leave them there until you’re ready to cook. It will keep them from drying out.
–Refrigerate unwashed sprouts in an airtight plastic bag for up to 5 days, though using them sooner rather than later is a good idea. After about 3 days off the stalk, sprouts will begin to develop a strong flavor.
–Remember that sprouts purchased at the farmers’ market have been harvested within 24 hours. Sprouts from the supermarket? Um, not so much.
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Crispy Brussels sprouts with Garlic Honey, Sriracha, and Lime

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved through the stem end
3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt, or more to taste
6 tablespoons Garlic Honey (recipe follows) or plain local honey
2 tablespoons Sriracha hot sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or more to taste
1 tablespoon soy sauce

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. On a baking sheet, toss the Brussels sprouts with enough oil to coat generously. Season with salt and toss again. Arrange the sprouts in a single layer, cut-side down. Cook, shaking the pan once or twice to prevent sticking, until the sprouts are browned at the edges and tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 20 to 25 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the honey, Sriracha, lime juice, and soy sauce.

3. Scrape the warm Brussels sprouts into the Sriracha mixture, tossing to coat. Taste, adding more salt or lime juice if needed. Transfer to a warm shallow bowl or platter and serve at once with cocktail picks. Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer.

Garlic Honey
12 ounces local honey (about 1 scant cup)
5 to 6 California garlic cloves, crushed with the flat side of a knife and peeled

1. In a small saucepan, combine the honey and garlic. Cook over low heat until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Let cool. Pour the mixture into a jar or other airtight container and let stand 48 hours at room temperature to blend flavors.

2. Strain the honey through a sieve and discard the garlic. Use at once, or refrigerate and return to room temperature before using. Makes about 1 cup.

Garlic Honey can also be used as an accompaniment to cornbread or biscuits; drizzled over a wedge of Gorgonzola cheese or fresh whole-milk ricotta; or as a last-minute basting glaze for pork, chicken, or duck.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.com. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.

Apple-Nectarine Combo Tree?

Q. Earlier this summer, I planted a Fuji Apple and a nectarine tree together in the same hole as my front and back yards are too small. What’s going to happen when they both start to fruit?nectarapple

A. I’m not sure that anything negative is going to happen when they start to fruit. That said, there are other more pressing concerns that need to be addressed before they get to that point. Small yards are a dilemma for gardeners looking to grow a variety of different types of fruits. The typical, semi-dwarf fruit tree, fifteen to eighteen feet high, with a twelve-foot spread, is much too big. The idea of planting multiple trees in a single hole is a great solution: however, the trees have to be compatible with the same watering requirements and have a similar growth pattern. Unfortunately, that is not the case with your choices, as they’re very dissimilar.

Nectarines have an umbrella shape canopy while an apple growth pattern is stiff and upright. Nectarines are pruned annually, removing fifty to sixty percent of the growth while with apples, you remove about ten or fifteen percent. As these trees mature, this combination will look very odd and awkward in the landscape. The key issue is the watering requirements. Apples tolerate frequent summer watering while nectarines do not; hence, planting under their canopies is not recommended and that’s a problem with small yards. Personally, I think there is little chance that you’ll be successful with this grouping. You’re going to have to remove one of the trees and replace it with a variety that better fits the location.

Apples, Pears and Asian Pears are best planted together. This is your best choice as you can maximize the planting space under the canopy. Peaches, Nectarines, Apricots, Plums, Plumcots and Pluots are the other groupings. Planting two, three, or even four fruit trees in the same hole will work. They’re spaced no closer than two feet apart. The grouping is viewed as a single canopy with multiple trunks and each variety is pruned accordingly.

It’s important to layer the different branches of each variety so they aren’t growing into one another along with minimizing the rubbing and crossing branches and eliminating the congestion in the center of the trees. It’s critical that these trees be pruned annually as one variety may be more aggressive than another. You prevent this by limiting each variety to a certain percentage of the space, fifty, or twenty-five percent etc, depending on the number in the grouping.

Also, it’s important that you have access around the entire diameter of the canopy to prune efficiently. It’s not as difficult as it might seem when planned correctly. In addition, whatever combination you choose, select varieties with different ripening times. This allows you to space the crops out so they don’t ripen in the same week and a half. And finally, the selection at your favorite garden center is very limited now so I suggest you wait until January for the new selection of trees to arrive

Buzz Bertolero is Executive Vice President of Navlet’s Garden Centers and a California Certified Nursery Professional. His web address is www.dirtgardener.com and you can send questions by email at dirtgarden@aol.com or to 360 Civic Drive Ste. ‘D’, Pleasant Hill, Calif. 94523 and on Facebook at Facebook.com/Buzz.Bertolero