Enjoy your sprouts this Christmas... we all like them really!

Most of us now like sprouts...

Most of us now like sprouts... - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Well, that’s a fine start to Christmas. It would appear my Christmas dinner has just flown off! Perhaps I should explain. Anna, the spaniel, had been up to her old tricks again and managed to slip her lead.

She promptly disappeared into the nearest ditch and reappeared proudly carrying a dead duck. Now, I’m not too hot on having dead birds ‘delivered to hand’ in the best gundog tradition, so she was told very firmly to “drop it” as I bolted for the kitchen door.

She looked somewhat puzzled by this instruction but disappeared for a couple of seconds, duly re-appearing minus the duck.

Not wishing to waste a perfectly good bird which would make a delicious Christmas dinner (or wanting her to rediscover it in the dark during her bedtime walk), I persuaded Rob to join me in a duck hunt so that we could recover the body.

We searched high and low but, mystifyingly, there was absolutely no sign of it. We eventually gave up and the next day, I mentioned the mystery of the disappearing duck to Anna’s owner when she phoned.

“Oh, that’s flown off,” she assured me. “It can’t have done; it was very dead, head lolling, floppy, the lot.”

She burst out laughing. “It’s a well-known fact (though, obviously, not by me) that if caught, ducks feign death as an escape mechanism. It’s definitely flown off.”

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So, there you have it – we will now be having turkey for Christmas, and I sincerely hope it will have the decency to remain static once I’ve fetched it from the butcher!

Talking of disappearing birds, poaching is again a big problem on farms in the run-up to Christmas. It is not the matter of the odd bird being taken, but poaching is big business these days and organised gangs are a constant nightmare, particularly on sporting estates.

Everyone is on ‘high alert’ at the moment, but it is an additional concern and unwanted hassle at what should be a quieter time of the year.

There does not seem to be quite such a black market for that other Christmas staple – the much-maligned brussels sprout.

I was interested to see The One Show on BBC1 did a quick survey during a programme in early December, asking viewers what they thought of brussels sprouts. The result was really cheering as 70 per cent liked them which meant that the sprout is finally getting back its good name as a delicious winter vegetable.

Years ago, Bedfordshire was the centre of the universe as far as brussels sprout growing was concerned. We used to grow them on this farm and I have spent many a chilly morning hand-picking icy sprouts for the London market, during the winter. They were tricky things to grow. If the weather was too warm, they tended to get too big and the housewife did not want them.

In the late 1980s, in response to the demand from supermarkets for a more consistent sprout, varieties of hybrid sprouts were developed which were easy to grow, were consistent in size and appearance and had a good keeping quality. There was only one downside – for a minority of people, they had a bitter after-taste! Word soon got out and even those who were not affected, decided that they did not like sprouts, and the market suffered, with many Bedfordshire growers deciding that they were no longer economically worth growing.

Since then, new varieties have come on stream and they are small, sweet and delicious. TV chefs have re-discovered them as a vegetable and, as a result, lots of exciting new recipes have been developed and the humble sprout has undergone a renaissance.

Our family love them and there is always a request to cook a few extra so that they can be turned into ‘bubble and squeak’ with mashed potato on Boxing Day. If you are one of those people who think you don’t like them, just try one – you might be pleasantly surprised!

While I have been busy planning Christmas, Rob has shown a huge degree of commonsense and kept well out of the way! The unexpectedly dry spell this month has enabled him to finish ploughing the last few remaining fields and he has even caught up with all the spraying again – something we really did not expect to happen.

We have had lorries in almost every day recently, collecting corn for the mills who need to ensure that they will have a sufficient amount in store over the Christmas period.

We are looking forward to having a few days off at Christmas. Most of the pre-festive cooking is done and Rob’s final duties will be to sort out a Christmas tree, and to help our little grand-daughter to leave out a glass of sherry and some mince pies for Santa.

It would appear that our family have all invited themselves to Wood Farm for Christmas so perhaps it is a good job the duck did get away as it would not have been sufficient to feed them all!

Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2014.