Miles Kington: Could Brussels sprouts save the British food industry?

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It was the annual 2007 meeting of the British Food Item of the Year Campaign, and time for the keynote speech. So all eyes were on Sir Hector Pascal as he made his way up to the podium in Sandwichmakers Hall, the great livery company HQ in which they were privileged to be gathered this evening.

"Ladies and gentlemen," said Sir Hector, who had been voted Food Campaigner of the Year more often than anyone else in history. "As you know, the British food industry depends for its clat every year on the choice of the right lead food item at Christmas time."

What was that word? Eclat? What did that mean? Had he said clair? British food people are not always used to foreign words. There was a sort of strained silence.

"As we look back, we see successful years in which the right item was chosen and adhered to. We think of the year of the cranberry. Almost as good was the year of the blueberry. I myself think with great fondness of the year of goose fat, when the whole of Britain suddenly discovered what the rest of the world had always known, that roast potatoes are best cooked with goose fat."

There was a subdued roar of approval. Great years, indeed. "Kiwi fruit!" cried someone. There was laughter.

"Kiwi fruit indeed!", echoed Sir Hector. "Yes, the year when everyone uprooted their native trees and planted kiwi fruit! And how they came to regret it!"

More laughter. Then Sir Hector grew sombre.

"This year the search for the great British food item has been harder. I say 'British'. There is, of course, nothing British about the cranberry and the blueberry. Indeed, I have always maintained that the good old British blackcurrant is superior to the blueberry!"

"Then why has it never been chosen?" came a voice.

"Because they are all bought up by bloody Ribena!" declared Sir Hector. "However, this year we decided in committee to put our money on another imported fruit. I need hardly tell you of our decision. The pomegranate."

There was another murmur, not entirely favourable.

"We have put everything we know behind this. We have preached its medical value. We have stressed its sexy qualities when mixed with sparkling wine. And to be honest, it has not entirely worked. Not one celebrity chef, for instance, has whole-heartedly come out in favour of the pomegranate. So tonight we have decided to do something we have never done before. We are changing horses in mid-stream. It is dangerously late, but as of today we are going to drop the pomegranate and go for this!"

So saying, he bent down and picked up a large object which he waved in the air. For a moment nobody recognised it. It looked like a knobbly green walking stick. Then there was a gasp.

"Brussels sprouts!" said someone. "Bloody Brussels sprouts!"

"How will that save us?" said someone else.

Into this no man's land came a saviour. From the hall there sprang a dashing young man who landed on the stage beside Sir Hector and addressed the mutinous crowd.

"Fools!" he said. "Sir Hector is right! Give sprouts a chance! But it is not the sprouts it is the magic of the stalk on which they glisten! Sprouts on a stalk keep fresh till Christmas! No other veg does this! Except tomatoes on the vine! Do you remember tomatoes on the vine? We charged twice the normal price for something that was no different, but which seemed twice as fresh! It saved us that year! Now we can do the same with sprouts!"

The fickle crowd, after a moment of doubt, burst into huzzas.

"I don't know who you are," muttered Sir Hector, "but you may have saved my bacon. Thank you, young man."

But is it too late to swap from pomegranate to sprout stalks? Have they got time to devise an interesting cocktail from Brussels sprout juice? For the gripping denouement, keep an eye on your local veg shop... And don't forget that next year we hear that rhubarb might be in the running...

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