Brussels Sprouts

Throughout history, conquering armies have frequently taken their popular foods into other countries and, depending on the climates and growing conditions, cabbage took on different colors and appearances. Regardless of who gets the nod for discovering this popular vegetable, it was widely accepted in Europe and frequently sliced and fermented. (Once again, explorer Marco Polo lost out discovering cabbage in his travels but possibly ate it in his native Italy.)

Cabbage made its appearance in America around 1700 and was probably grown and eaten by the colonists, as well as some Native Americans. Although usually cooked, in the 1700s the Dutch created a raw “cabbage salad” which became what is now our modern day coleslaw. Centuries before, cut up and originally eaten with vinaigrette, the Dutch took coleslaw to a new (and less healthy) level by adding egg, some type of fat and dairy, usually in the form of our mayonnaise. This version has been referenced in American literature as far back as 1785. Some adventurous chefs added shredded carrots and jazzed it up a bit, but the basic recipe still dominates American menus. Because it was highly perishable and messy, it certainly wasn’t packed into the bags of military soldiers or cowboys, but it has thrived as a popular side dish with all-American sandwiches, hot dogs and hamburgers, and a popular salad with barbeque and fried chicken.

When the wildly popular fast food restaurant which specializes in chicken eliminated it from their menu, there was a national uproar (including from this author). They replaced it with a kale salad, but that just didn’t cut it for coleslaw fans, which attests to its popularity. Kentucky Fried Chicken still continues to serve it as a popular side, and no self-respecting deli would dare keep it off their menu.

And speaking of shredded cabbage, the Germans, Czechs and Polish all have their beloved fermented sauerkraut, which is usually served as a hot vegetable. Jewish delis
serve it cold as a side for sandwiches and a major filling in Reuben sandwiches.

So where does this leave our Brussels sprouts? Over 90 percent of the U.S. supply of these miniature cabbages are grown in the cool climate of San Francisco and
agricultural areas just south of the Bay. Estimated total United States production is well over 35,000 metric tons annually. For all you Brussels sprouts haters, you can blame the French settlers who brought them to the U.S. around 1800. Production began in the Louisiana delta and eventually found its way to the West Coast where the growing climate was more favorable.