Few people realise the intense, convoluted and internecine controversies that rage in the world of vegetable folklorists. These dour scholars generally gather in the darker corners of academe, preferring potting sheds and greenhouses to the more usual bars and senior common rooms frequented by their colleagues. They putter about in the basements of libraries where more mainstream scholars fear to tread, seeking out old manuscripts and botanical treatises. Some of them roam the highways and byways of obscure rural districts, seeking undiscovered nuggets of folklore and superstition. These solitary pursuits result in impassioned debate when these normally taciturn scholars meet.
Last year, at the annual gathering of the VFS (Vegetable Folklore Society), there was a massive debate over three conflicting theories of why people cut a cross in the base of a Brussels sprout before cooking it.
The Celticists, led by Waldemar Rosenkohl, maintained that it is a Celtic equal-armed cross, and was first done by St Patrick himself, to bless the humble green vegetable before eating it. They maintain that the earliest illustrations of St Patrick holding a shamrock are actually pictures of him blessing a Brussels sprout, which was later mistaken for a shamrock.
The equally passionate contention of the Norse theorists was that it was originally a Gyfu or Gebo rune (shaped like an X) and symbolised Odin’s sacrifice on the World Tree. This theory was given extra credence by the hypothesis that the Brussels sprouts on the stalk of the plant represent the multiple worlds on the World Tree.
Meanwhile, a third school, who generally hold the view that little if any folklore survives from the ancient pagan past, maintain that it was held in medieval times that farts were a sign of demonic possession, and that therefore, since Brussels sprouts tend to make people fart, they had to be blessed with the sign of the cross to make sure that the devil couldn’t get in to people who ate them.
Some Pagans refuse to cut a cross on the base of their Brussels sprouts in case it is a Christian thing, but as it is incredibly difficult to cut a pentagram on the base of a sprout, and as the origins of this practice are lost in the mists of time, you can safely cut a cross in the base of your Brussels sprouts.
But spare a thought for the folklorists scouring the highways and byways, and the dusty tomes in old libraries, to bring you such arcane knowledge.