Sprouts are so much more than just a Christmas treat

Richard and Mark in the sprout fields

For some they’re the ruin of Christmas dinner, for others one of the highlights, the Brussel sprout certainly has a reputation as a Marmite vegetable.

One man who certainly falls into the latter category is Richard Bluck, a sprout farmer in Weston whose family have been growing the vegetable for an incredible 120 years.

For Richard the sprout is much more than just a once-a-year treat (or nightmare depending on your point of view) it’s an everyday food which his family have enjoyed throughout their lives.

While Weston Farm produces a variety of other vegetables which it sells from its small farm shop, this time of year is mainly focused on sprouts.

2018 has been a particularly challenging year for UK sprout farmers, with a long dry summer preventing the plants from growing until later in the season.

This has resulted in a very busy period for Richard and his sons Mark and Philip, the family’s fourth generation of sprout farmers, who painstakingly hand-pick the sprouts.

Richard said: “We go out into the fields at around 7.30am with our head torches and work until the light goes at around 4.30pm, we aim to each pick around 100lb of sprouts per hour.

“Because of the dry weather the sprouts lay dormant for a long time, it’s something that’s had an effect right across the country, there won’t be a shortage, but it means that sprouts might be a bit smaller this Christmas.

“We grow five acres of sprouts, we’re quite small so it doesn’t make sense for us to use equipment to pick them, also doing it mechanically means you only get 1 pick off each plant and they can get damaged, we get four picks off each by hand per season.”

The plants go into the ground in May and are harvested right the way through to March.

Weston Farm grows 5,000 sprout plants, each one holding around 50 individual sprouts.

Mark, said: “We actually sell more sprouts after Christmas because they’re a winter vegetable. They’re a hardy vegetable and they take a lot of killing. We don’t sell to supermarkets we sell from our farm shop and we supply them wholesale and to other farm shops. It’s a tough job surviving as a farm our size, but people know when they come to us they get absolutely fresh produce, people do seek that out.”

The reputation of the sprout as a love it or hate it vegetable is something the Bluck family acknowledges, but Richard believes much of this is down to how it is cooked, with many keeping them in the pan for too long.

He also says the belief that sprouts should only be picked after the first frost is also a bit of a myth, with a number of different varieties now available.

Richard’s wife Philippa says that the best cooked sprouts are boiled for 8-10minutes in water with a little salt and she herself prefers them done simply, without added extras such as bacon or junipers.

She added that cutting a cross at the bottom helps the hot water get further into the stem.

Philip said: “I think it’s a bit of a physiological thing with sprouts, they’ve got this reputation for being a bit marmite, but we’ve always eaten them and they’re very good for you.”