“When people say they don’t like Brussels sprouts,” Lee says, “I find myself wondering if they’ve ever eaten them at the right time of year. This luscious vegetable is one that physically can be harvested early and, to the eye, all looks fine. But we don’t do that because frost is what brings the sugar levels – and therefore the flavor – up.”
Brussels sprouts love cold temperatures and we hand-harvest them for chefs late into the winter. “There are days,” Lee admits, “when it’s so cold outside that our hands are too frozen to pick them. So, we use a sharp machete and cut down the entire stalk and transport the vegetables that way to a barn that’s filled with heat and light. And, in that environment, we hand-harvest the Brussels sprouts. Fortunately, when you cut down the entire stalk, the vegetable stays fresh.”
When you hear us say that we grow vegetables slowly and gently in full accord with nature, the purple Brussels sprout is the perfect example to illustrate the process. It takes 11 full months to grow this incredible vegetable and, although some purple veggies can lose their gorgeous color, the purple Brussels sprout holds onto its unique coloring, turning almost blue.
Baby Brussels sprouts are a favorite of Farmer Lee because they feature all the intense flavor of their larger cousins, but without any of the cabbage-like bitterness that causes some people not to enjoy this luscious vegetable. In theory, the team at The Chef’s Garden could harvest these beautiful babies as early as August but we like to be patient. If we wait until after a frost, baby Brussels can be compared to grapes from a fine ice wine.
Then there is the amazing kalette. This is a marvelous hybrid cross between the Brussels sprout and kale, supercharged with flavor and nutrition – and one that doesn’t get half the attention it so richly deserves. When chefs visit for farm tours in the winter, Farmer Lee enjoys a game called Stump the Chef. He shows them a vegetable with stalks as thick and tall as Brussels sprouts but, instead of sprouts, there are ruffled leaves, gathering in tiny little bunches. The leaves are purple and mauve, super crunchy and intricately textured.
This sweet, nutty, mild and lovely vegetable is the kalette, specialty produce that also comes into its full potential in the cold days of winter. Pair kalettes with apples or oranges, or with tomato and feta cheese, with beets or with onions – or spice up your stir fry. No matter how you decide to serve them, they will grace your winter table, surprising and delighting your diners.