Christmas is brassica season, harvest time for the cabbage growers. The time of year to marvel at the kale which just keeps growing in all weathers; to gaze in wonder at the red cabbage, gigantic purple bowling balls that were nothing more than a palm-full of seeds a few months ago; to revel in the spectacle of the sprout trunks, strong, regal and towering above everything else in the winter patch.
The brassica family has two distinct factions. The first, and my most beloved, is the oleraces clan: cabbage, sprouts, cauliflower, kale and the like. The second is a hodgpodge bunch of stragglers bound together by their mustard-ness – mustard leaves, Chinese leaves like Mizuna, and oil seed rape – but also including turnips, which we can all live without. This latter group rarely turn my head and certainly not in winter when such a bevy of brassicas is on offer.
On my allotment I grow kale (curly, red, Hungry Gap, Russian), sprouts, savoy cabbage and red cabbage. Last year I grew kalettes (or flowers sprouts) too, with triumphant success. We ate them in feta salad, tossed them in buttery bacon and served them with every roast dinner between December and March when the stems were finally bare. No such glory this year: the entire harvest got eaten in a hit and run rabbit incursion one night.
I am also, for the first time, growing kaibroc this year, which I bought as plug plants from Delfand Organics. Tipped as a less petulant calabrese than the usual head of broccoli, it is similar to Tenderstem in that the florets are loose and you can eat the long stem. They have been magnificent and will certainly be usurping the calabrese (aka broccoli) which is, or has been for me at least, nothing more than a study of how many pests you can fit on one brassica.
When it comes to cooking this glorious branch of the brassica family, I have two approaches: bacon or slaw. The bacon option generally involves wilting the brassica leaves in the fatty juices of fried pancetta and mixing with a grain, often spelt for a warming risotto-meets-stew affair. The slaw, which encompasses remoulade too, is simply a case of finely shredding your chosen brassica and tossing it with something a bit sweet – apple, pomegranate seeds, orange segments etc – and a mayonnaise-y dressing (though a soy/lime/sesame oil dressing makes a delicious oriental slaw too).
Let’s not kid ourselves though, brassicas are a faff to grow. They take up lots of space and are very susceptible to pests. But then, aren’t all beauties high maintenance? For me, the difficulty of growing them just makes the final harvest all the sweeter and only encourages my starry-eyed adoration.