I used to hate Brussels sprouts. The only way I had ever had them was boiled, and they were smelly and disgusting. Then I found a recipe for pan-fried Brussels sprouts in bacon. Now, be honest, is there anything that a little bacon cannot improve? There is a reason we are in the midst of a bacon boom — it's not just for eggs and hamburgers anymore. I've seen pictures, some quite disturbing, of bacon-wrapped jelly doughnuts, bacon pizza, BLTs without the L and the T, chocolate-covered bacon, deep-fat fried bacon and bacon on a stick. One company has introduced Baconnaise — mayonnaise with bacon in it to save you the trouble of adding bacon to tuna salad. I hear someone has also introduced a bacon-scented aftershave. If that is not illegal, it is certainly irresponsible. What woman can resist a man who smells of bacon? It could wreck the balance of power in the war between the sexes.
But can bacon power save something as intrinsically loathsome as Brussels sprouts? I'm here to tell you, "Yes." If you still boil Brussels sprouts after reading this, you are committing a crime against nature. I think my mother did it because in the '50s and '60s vegetables were something you ate in spite of their taste. You ate them because there was this vague idea out there that they were good for you. Other than mashed potatoes with gravy and corn on the cob, I can't think of a vegetable dish my mother made that wasn't a penance you ate for having meat. Maybe they are good for you, but not after they've had whatever was good in them boiled out. I don't know what people had against vegetables back then, but they would do anything to keep them from tasting like vegetables: creamed corn, creamed spinach, creamed peas. If you could put something crunchy on top of a creamed vegetable, then you were in the realm of the daring and exotic.
"Baked bread crumbs on top of creamed string beans! You must give me the recipe!" Some may say that mixing in toothsome, fat-filled bacon is not the healthy answer either. And if you're a vegetarian, you probably didn't get this far anyway; who cares what you think? But if you did get this far, just because something doesn't contain meat doesn't automatically make it a healthy food. Doughnuts? Candy bars? Potato chips? Popcorn?
I'm just telling you, if you cut your Brussels sprouts in half and pan fry them in bacon drippings and then crumble some bacon on them, you will start eating your vegetables. Drip a little balsamic vinegar on them and McDonald's could sell them faster than French fries.
So, as a new sprout convert, I planted some in my garden this year, and they took off. Finally, I found something the deer won't eat. Now, after a few frosts, I have harvested 25 pounds of sprouts, but people won't eat them. The same folks who were happy to be gifted with tomatoes, garlic, peppers and eggplants from our garden won't touch the sprouts.
"Oh, thanks, I still have some from last year," said one neighbor, even though I didn't grow them last year.
"I'm cutting back on cruciferous vegetables," said another fast-thinking friend.
"I hear they make great compost," is something I hear a lot.
"But you like them, don't you?" I asked Sue.
"Very much," she said. "About once a year."
Jim Mullen is the author of "It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life" and "Baby's First Tattoo." You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.