Brussels Sprouts Gratin

A trip down memory lane and a reflection of the evolution of "gassy vegetables".

My Aunt Vi had been a flapper and apparently quite the show stopper in her heyday. By the time I saw her only at holiday dinners, forty years, marriage to Uncle Jack and five grown children later, the bloom was decidedly off that old rose.   Yet I found her fascinating - perhaps because she didn’t give a hoot about the firm strictures of the Swedish Lutheran traditional holiday dinner. She was cheerfully oblivious to thinly veiled disapprobation of her sisters-in-law. Tall and thin as a heron, with arches of pencil thin pencilled eyebrows, she had thin red lips, high heels, short skirts and a permanently rigidly stiff neck which caused her to appear vaguely sly and mysterious as she wielded her cigarette, held precariously in a long holder, sprinkling ashes hither and yon. There was an ashtray placed beside her plate at the table which occasionally caught the of bit of flying ash. Also beside her plate, she arranged her Bingo cards.  The television remained on, at her insistence, calling numbers. My siblings and I could, and did, stare at her unabashedly because she gave children no more attention than couch pillows. 

The dinner was entirely traditional. Turkey and ham. Stuffing and mashed potatoes. A sensible amount of gravy – enough to acknowledge the occasion, but not so much as to condone reckless abandon.   Ginger Ale was served in sherry glasses and water in wine glasses. Much praying went on as children fidgeted and the Bingo caller chimed in from the living room. A glass sectioned relish tray made its appearance, and always the “gassy vegetables” provided, quite intentionally by Aunt Nova, to needle Aunt Edna. Pumpkin pie with that required dollop of whipping cream and drizzle of honey. Oh my!

And, of  course, the beloved, oblivious uncles, uncomfortable in suits and ties, who smoked cigars after dinner and were soon sleeping like roly-poly well-dressed bears. 

Aunt Vi, promptly after dinner, packed up her cigarettes, Bingo cards and husband, and disappeared, followed by the wide eyes of the children, into the night. Mother and the straight-laced aunts annually tut-tutted as they did the washing up,  that Aunt Vi always ruined the lovely, traditional dinner with her eyebrows and ashes and Bingo cards. But, they were, of course, wrong. Anything that is done more than once by any member of the party, becomes a part of the tradition for that very special group gathered around that very special table as they pass that milestone every year. 

This isn’t quite Aunt Nova’s recipe for gassy sprouts, but close enough:

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

By Jennifer Segal, adapted from Fine Cooking

Servings: 6-8

Prep Time: 15 Minutes

Cook Time: 45 Minutes

Total Time: 1 Hour


2 pounds Brussels sprouts, stem ends trimmed and cut in half through the stem end

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs, from about 3 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed

1/4 cup finely grated Gruyère

1-1/4 cups heavy cream


Heat the oven to 425°F. Put the Brussels sprouts in a 9x13-inch baking dish, and toss with 2 tablespoons of the melted butter, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Spread the sprouts evenly in the dish and roast, tossing once halfway through, until tender and browned in spots, 25-30 minutes.

So as we reflect upon another Thanksgiving in the books, and ramp up to Christmas, let us give a nod of thanks to the “characters” who enhance our annual celebrations with their quirkiness and peculiarities, for they are a part of our very personal and very special traditions. They are, after all, the ones who the children of today will probably remember most fondly when they eventually become the elders and continue to follow those singular traditions that bind our families together.