THEY LURKED ON the back porch, waiting for me. They were Brussels sprouts, my avowed enemy.
The enmity I hold for Brussels sprouts goes back decades. As a child they held me hostage. I grew up in a household where the kids could not leave the supper table until we had taken at least one bite of every dish served during the meal.
The one-bite tactic backfired. I ended up hating Brussels sprouts, as did all but one of my three brothers. One of the few benefits of becoming an adult was getting the right to veto the appearance of that vegetable in my home. I also made it my practice to rant in print against these odious orbs. Usually I attack Brussels sprouts in the fall, the time of year when the plants are running, or sprouting or whatever it is the little green things do.
Traditionally my harangues generate a vociferous response from the Brussels Sprouts Defense League. These sprouts-huggers call me, offer me so-called life-transforming recipes and send me letters. One even sent me a snapshot of sprouts growing in a garden. I turned this photo over to the postal authorities in the hopes they might pursue charges of sending pornography through the U.S. mail.
If I didn't know better, these sprouts-eaters would appear to be normal, well-balanced citizens. I figure they have a defect in their brain, in the Brussels sprouts lobe, which makes them, as the professionals say, nuts as a bunny. One of my brothers suffers from this affliction. Sprout loving can strike the best of families.
Scott Williams is another Brussels-sprouts propagandist. He grows them on his Gardeners' Gourmet farm in Carroll County and then tries to palm them off on unsuspecting souls at various farmers' markets in the Baltimore and Washington area. Last Sunday morning, for instance, as I was buying salad greens from him, he pushed two stalks of the sprouts in my bag.
When I got home, I put the dreaded vegetable out on the back porch. That kept it cool and out of my house. Then after the sprouts had lurked outside my house for a day, I found a way to handle them. It was a recipe that called for cooking them, the way Williams recommended, with bacon, butter and onions.
I can't say I liked the taste of this dish. Doing so would require me to contradict years of anti-sprouts ranting. But I can say I enjoyed the step in the recipe that called for slicing the sprouts to bits in a food processor. The recipe called this step making the sprouts into slaw. I called it revenge.
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
6 slices bacon, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
Rinse sprouts in a colander and drain. Cut each sprout in half. Place half the sprouts in a food processor and pulse until they resemble homemade slaw; place in a bowl. Repeat with remaining sprouts.
Cook the bacon in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat until lightly browned. Spoon all but a light coating of fat from pan. Stir the onion and 1 tablespoon of butter into the bacon and drippings. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until onion is softened. Add the sprouts, stir to coat well, then add water, cover and cook over low heat for five minutes. Uncover and raise heat to medium, cooking until sprouts are tender and crisp, adding a few drops of water if necessary to keep the mixture moist. Stir in the remaining butter, add salt and serve.
-- From "The Thanksgiving Cookbook" by Holly Garrison (Macmillan, 1991)