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Apart from the Christmas tree itself, no single item of vegetation dominates the British Christmas as much as the humble Brussels sprout. These tiny green balls of misery/delight are the single most controversial course on any Christmas dinner table.

And the reason for this is simple, they’re GOOD for you.

Nobody wants food that is good for you on a Christmas dinner table. Our traditional Christmas dinner is broadly the same as your Thanksgiving roast, with turkey as the most commonly used meat. This is a tradition which dates back to Henry VIII, although it took a while to settle in for everyone else. In the meantime, the more common Christmas roast (assuming you were of a class able to indulge in such a thing) would’ve been peacock or boar. I’ve no idea what a peacock tastes like, but we’re going to have to assume that turkey is nicer, or at the very least, much less bother to rear.

As for the trimmings, they’ve been essentially the same as yours for well over 100 years. We don’t tend to bother with the candied yam side of things, I should add that now. It’s not from a lack of desire for carbs, anyone who has tasted bread sauce will realize there’s no such thing as too many complex carbohydrates on a Christmas dinner table, and we’ve already got parsnips and carrots and roasted potatoes (less mash though, mashed turnip/swede yes, mashed potato, not as much), and stuffing, so Professor Atkins can just do one.

Then there are the pigs in blankets (mini-sausages wrapped in bacon), the meat itself, the various garnishes (cranberry sauce) and whatnot. All fairly indulgent stuff, and not one morsel of it characterized principally by having a high iron content or being rich in vitamin C.

Enter Johnny Sprout. All green and glowing, possibly covered in butter, which he refuses to absorb, possibly accompanied by chestnuts or walnuts, which he allows to slip from his rounded shoulders. He’s a tight ball of compact health, the fitness instructor of food. He’s wearing lycra running shorts, and he wants you to drop and give him 20 before you can reach over for second helpings.

Oh sure, he’s the shape of a bouncy ball, but he doesn’t taste of anything except cabbage, and as every child knows, cabbage is bad. Not least because it gives you gas. The bad kind.

Personally I love a sprout. Sprouts are what make a Christmas dinner special, because they don’t tend to fit in any other meal and they’re seasonally available in the late fall/early winter, so they always taste of that one special day. And cabbages. And it’s good that so many people can’t abide them, because tradition dictates that there must be sprouts at Christmas, and that means there’s all the more for me.

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By Fraser McAlpine