Trans Hort Soc London 3: 197-200 (1820)
XLI. Substance of a Memoir on the Cultivation and Variation of Brussels Sprouts.
By Jean Baptiste Van Mons, M. D.
Professor of Chemistry and Rural Economy in the University of Leuvain,
Foreign Member of the Horticultural Society.
Read July 7, 1818.
THE opinion entertained by the French writers on Horticulture, as well as by the German gardeners, that the Brussels Sprouts are only fit for the table after they have been exposed to frost, is erroneous. By proper attention, and management, in Belgium, we contrive to supply ourselves with this delicious vegetable full ten months in the year, that is, from the end of July to the end of May.
To obtain the first crops, the seed is sown in spring, under a frame, so as to bring the plants forward; they are then transplanted into an open border with a good aspect. By late and successive sowings, the supply is continued through the period I have stated.
We usually cut off the top of the plant, about 10 or 15 days before we intend to gather from the stem, which then produces most abundantly, so much so, that if this vegetable be compared with any other, which occupies as little space, lasts as long, and grows as well in situations generally considered unfavourable, such as between rows of Potatoes, Scarlet Runners, or amongst young trees, it must be considered superior in utility to most others.
The plants in my garden grow to the height of four feet without their tops, and are covered with sprouts from the root upwards. The top is sometimes left on till the spring, and is then gathered for use; it is very delicate when dressed, and different in flavour from the sprouts. I do not think the produce of sprouts is at all affected by the removal of the head. The plants resist the severest cold, and the only effect, apparently, produced by frost upon them is, that the leaves of the shoots close themselves more together, and become more compact. The small Cabbages thus formed are never, with us, more than half an inch in diameter, they would not be esteemed if they were larger. In the spring, when the shoots are disposed to run to flower, we check their growth by taking up the plants and laying them in the ground, in any shaded spot.
Besides the usual mode of dressing them, the Sprouts are sometimes served at table with a sauce composed of vinegar, butter, and nutmeg, poured upon them hot, after they have been boiled.
The seeds are saved indiscriminately from the plants which have been topped, or from those on which the tops have remained; but I intend in future to collect my seeds solely from the tops, which practice has, I suspect, not been general, only because the tops are so frequently cut for the table in the spring, before they run to flower.
We have no information of the origin of this vegetable, but it has been a very old inhabitant of our gardens, for it is mentioned in our Regulations for holding the Market, in 1213, under the name of Spruyten (Sprouts), which it bears to this day.
Much has been said of the disposition of this plant to degenerate; in the soil of Brussels it remains true, and I have lately observed it to do the same at Louvain; but at Malines, which is the same distance from Brussels as Louvain, and where the greatest attention is paid to the growth of vegetables, it deviates from its proper character, after the first sowing; yet it does not seem that any particular soil or aspect is essential to the plant, for it grows equally well and true at Brussels, in the gardens of the town, where the soil is sandy, and mixed with a black moist loam, as in the fields, where a compact white clay predominates.
The progress of deterioration at Malines was most rapid; the plants raised from seed of the true sort, which I had sent there, produced the Sprouts in little bunches, or rosettes in their true form; seeds of these being saved, they gave plants in which the Sprouts did not form into little Cabbages, but were expanded; nor did they shoot again at the axils of the stem. The plants raised from the seeds of these last mentioned, only produced lateral shoots with weak pendant leaves, and tops similar to the shoots, so that in three generations, the entire character of the original was lost.
From a plant in the state last described, seed was saved, at my request, and sent back to me. I had it sown by itself, and carefully watched the plants in their growth; I was not long in discovering that they retained the same character of degeneration they had assumed at Malines, and preserved it throughout the whole course of their growth, yielding pendulous leaves, with long peduncles, and having no disposition to cabbage. I suffered these plants to run to seed at a great distance from my true Sprouts, which the extent of my garden allowed me easily to do. The second sowing brought them back a good deal, to their true character, the plants yielded small Cabbages regularly at each axil, but not generally full or compact, and they did not shoot a second time, as the true sort does. I again suffered these to run to seed, using the same precaution of keeping them by themselves. I sowed the seed, and this time the plants were found to have entirely recovered their original habits, their head, and rich produce; and in the next year's sowing, the seed will be mixed with that of my select plants. It a is sort of lost child, for whom absence has doubled my affection.