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Sprouts

The joy of Christmas prep was irrevocably marred for me by the insistent parental rule that Brussels sprouts had to be cross-cut at the stalk to help them cook faster.

Hence a hellish pre-meal stint of standing for hours at the kitchen sink, hands under a freezing cold tap, counting out enough of the little blighters to feed 20 family members while trying to avoid nicking benumbed fingers with knife.

It was years before I realised that cutting said crosses had nothing to do with remembering the eventual fate of the Baby Jesus, whose birth we were about to commemorate.

Only now do I find out that most chefs say don't bother. Raymond Blanc, for example, advises just cutting them in two. Nigel just trims his. Even Jamie says crossing is for wimps. Personally I'm with Simon Hopkinson, whose recipe involves the simplest of instructions: boil, butter, eat.

Just as well, since we're in for a bumper crop this year due to a better-than-usual growing season. Already we're eating more of them, with year-on-year sales up 23%. Prices will (or should) come down, giving ample opportunity for more bright sparks to come up with more innovative cooking ideas. Just so long as they all agree that cross-cutting only reduces them to waterlogged sludge.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to persuade children to eat sprouts, the upscale retailer Waitrose is launching a special "kid-friendly" version of the vegetable, having worked with its growers to create a milder-flavoured incarnation. Apparently this is to avoid their perceived bitter taste.

I think that's ridiculous. Surely it's the cooking, not the growing, that makes them bittter? And surely kids should be forced to like them as they are?

If all else fails, I guess they could be put to good use elsewhere. London has seen the light, showcasing the world's first Christmas tree to be powered by Brussels sprouts. The scientists involved made a large "green" battery of five power cells, each of which holds 200 Brussels sprouts, and together producing 63 volts.

Thus it's classified as as extra-low voltage, similar to a telephone and safe to touch. The chemical reaction was created by putting copper and zinc electrodes into each sprout.

I wonder if their sockets were cut with a cross.

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