A trip down memory-lane: my special sprouts.
I used to hate Brussel sprouts when I was a child. They were very bitter and smelt like fart. Sometimes they still do, but I don’t mind anymore. Because I grew older and more mature and so did my taste-buds ( Let me get this straight, most flavours and tastes do not stem from your taste-buds but from something called retronasal smell and it’s neither your taste-buds nor your “smell buds” growing more mature, but your brain re-evaluating flavour… there you go.) . Adults are into all kinds of very weird things and by this I mean food-weird: very smelly cheese, full-on fermented grape-juice, spices so hot that your mouth hurts and vegetables so incredibly bitter that no other animal would ever eat them. The more acquired the taste, the more of a delicacy a dish. But you see, I really don’t want to force myself to nibble on some stinky Stilton while drinking a chardonnay older than myself. Sometimes all I want is to sit at my desk, listen to some swingy christmas music and watch thick wet snow-flakes cover the streets, parks and tress under a blanket of silence. I love these kinds of weather, be it snow, rain or a storm, because you can stay indoors. Because you can lean back and watch winter arrive while you are all save and warm. And because these days just seem to be made for a nice hearty plate of my special Brussel sprouts.
I still remember the first time I ever consciously tasted Brussel sprouts. I am sitting at the large wooden table in my grandmother’s living room. I see my aunts and uncles, my parents, my little sister and my grandparents. It must have been Christmas. It’s not that we never come together except on Christmas, because we do, but because there are almost no other occasions where my granny would see Brussel sprouts fit for a meal. I must have been about 5 or so, I know this because I have almost no recall of memories before this time. So there I am, waiting, all excited, maybe about the food to come – because even at the age of 5 I already was a huge foodie- but more likely because of the presents I was expecting. We had a goose roast. With potatoes and green beans and Brussel sprouts. This is something I am not sure of. Like most memories mine is partly recalled and partly reconstructed based on prior experiences and my knowledge about the world. And if I know one thing about the world than it’s that for christmas you have goose or geese to be more precise. Lately there have been some episodes of roasted ducks, kale or pasties with goulash – but that is only a recent deviation from a more general tradition.
When talking about memories one needs to differentiate between implicit and explicit memory: Implicit memory helps us to perform better at tasks, for example if you have practiced your knifing skills quite a bit, they become what’s called procedural memory. You can unconsciously perform a task aided by your procedural memory without chopping of your finger. Explicit memory is the memory that you are consciously aware of, this is very clear when it comes to episodic memory, which is autobiographical: My first Brussel sprout memory is one of my episodic memories. Semantic memory is the second and a bit more unrelateable form of explicit memory, it’s all the dates, grammar rules, lyrics of songs and facts about our world that you have acquired, but that you can’t remember having acquired. For example, I know that for christmas you have some kind of roasted bird. However, much like with the lyrics of “Last Christmas” I know that I must have acquired this knowledge at one point but for the life of me, I wouldn’t be able to say when and where or why.
Unfortunately our brain is sometimes a bit sloppy when it comes to recording memories, it takes -often rather randomly- bits and pieces of experiences and saves them for later retrieval, while leaving out others. The selection of material for encoding (which is what the recording of information into long-term memory is called) is influenced by a lot of factors. Your attention, your mood, the context, your level of drunkenness as well as a myriad of other things determine what material you will later be able to remember. However, memory is a two-way lane, you don’t only save all the episodes of your life up in your hard-disk, but you will also sometimes take them out, look at them and work with them. And this is where reconstruction kicks in. Our memory is more like a patch-work rug than a nice coherent piece of cloth. Based on context and prior experiences, we fill the gaps in our memory. We add little pieces to our stories, to make them more coherent. We talk in “I must have”s and “Usually”s, because we perceive our world as quite orderly and in an orderly world things work according to certain rules, even if we can’t remember if they did, but after all we usually do eat a roasted goose for Christmas.
I would suggest you to take some time, while you make this dish, to think of your first Brussel sprout experience, if you can. Try to see what you can remember and what it is that you added for the sake of coherence. The way we make meaning of the memories-traces we recall can tell us quite a lot about ourselves and more specifically how we view the world. If you can’t recall any Brussel sprout episode, maybe look for the first memory of you trying to eat a dish that you disliked when you were a child. I would love to hear some of your stories in the comment section. For the time being, enjoy your trip down memory lane and my special sprouts.
Brussel sprouts Butter Garlic Olive Oil Fresh Dill Salt Pepper Shallot Lemon Crème Fraîche
I usually will have about 200-250 g of sprouts per person. Allow for both one small shallot and one small garlic-clove and quite a bit of dill.
- Clean the sprouts with a small knife, discard of all trimming. And cut the little green bulbs into halves by slicing top to bottom.
- Heat a large pan with water and add quite a bit of salt.
- Add butter and a bit of olive oil to a large sauce-pan and let melt gently on low heat.
- Chop a bit of shallot finely.
- Add the chopped shallot and some grated, pressed or mushed garlic to the melted butter and let the garlic and shallots infuse the butter.
- When the garlic and the shallots slowly starts to brown, add a about 4 tablespoons of crème fraîche to the pan and about one teacup of water. Stir till the content of the pan is a smooth creme. You want the liquid to be a bit runny, but it still needs to coat the back of a spoon.
- Add salt and pepper to the taste.
- Chop some dill finely and add to the sauce.
- Add a spritz of lemon-juice to brighten up the flavours and balance out the richness of the sauce.
- Cook the sprouts till they are tender to the point of a knife and add immediately to the sauce. Mix well and have with some nice bread.