Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)

A few years back a gentleman at the Tucson Organic Gardeners (TOG) was offering free Jerusalem Artichoke Tubers out of a bucket. He was touting how good they were to be eaten raw. Though I reluctantly listened to his presentation and thought the crop looked interesting, I decided not to take any tubers because I had no idea how perfect this vegetable would turn out to be for my garden. My experience at TOG turned to regret when I learned from the book Perennial Vegetables how great this vegetable would be in my garden.

A typical Jerusalem Artichoke tuber

Though Americans call the roots of this sunflower a “Jerusalem Artichoke” a more appropriate name would probably be “Suntuber”, hence the nickname “Sunchoke”. As a native to the United States, the Jerusalem Artichoke grows throughout the country. However, based on my own experience, some varieties may do better in specific climates then others.

The seed root that resulted in my recent Jerusalem Artichoke crop came from Sonoma County. A farm there was selling two different varieties: one red and the other, white. I brought home a small paper bag of each variety and promptly planted them in January of 2011. That summer I planted some Chinese long beans in the same area as the Jerusalem Artichoke and the long beans crowded everything out. Though the red tubers perished, a few of the white rooted varieties managed to grow a little, despite the minimal sunlight. This last spring was the first time that I noticed a Jerusalem Artichoke flower stalk growing with vigor. It grew relatively well early in the summer then died back – partially due to lace bugs – in August. I was expecting the plant to “take over the garden” as I had read others report – but with this being Arizona – perhaps I was expecting too much.

Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes)

The plant itself was much more “bushy” than I had initially expected. Compared with other sunflowers it has a large footprint. My plant, which was covered with rough leaves and small yellow flowers, reached to the height of 5-6 feet and a width of at least 4 feet in diameter.

Jerusalem Artichoke Plant

Before cooking the tubers of the Jerusalem Artichoke I read up a little. Based on their shape, I knew that the roots were a pain to peel – so I decided to pick a recipe that required no peeling. Another bit of helpful information I gleaned from my online and book reading was the warning that many people gave concerning the root – which gives it the nickname of “Fartichoke”. It seems that people cannot digest the carbohydrate “inulin” which is found in the tubers. Apparently, this lack of digestibility can lead to those who eat the roots to stomach cramps and gaseous tendencies.

The recipe I used (minus the brandy) was a Cream of Jerusalem Artichoke soup from Allrecipies.com. So here are the results of this recipe: Adults love it – kids were okay with it. The main problem my children had with the soup was the texture. The tubers were harder than all the other ingredients by the end of the cooking process, which translated into how the recipe turned out. Perhaps I would suggest that the tubers be provided several minutes of cooking in the oil before adding the onion and potatoes. Though my children didn’t care for the soup, the very next night I was able to cunningly substitute the Cream of Jerusalem Artichoke soup for a white sauce required as an ingredient for a casserole. Good thing my kids don’t read my blog – yet!

Jerusalem Artichoke cut up with potatoes

So the soup turned out to be a success. I noticed very little problems with gas, which I can only ascribe to either cooking it with potatoes or to my substantial raw vegetable consumption. The main affect I noticed from eating Jerusalem Artichokes was improved digestion – which is a very positive effect given that my difficulty digesting meat has lead me to become almost completely vegetarian.

So my overall rating for this vegetable is good. I’ll keep it in my garden as a perennial and add it to my potato-based recipes. Perhaps I’ll even try to obtain other Jerusalem Artichoke Cultivars.

If you would like to know more about rearing Jerusalem Artichokes, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE) has a good planting guide. In addition, both Wikipedia and Mother Earth News have some nice articles about the Jerusalem Artichoke. 

Even with many different varieties of Jerusalem Artichoke available, very few websites sell more than one variety or even know what variety they sell. Despite this, I have discovered two websites that provide multiple Sunchokes varieties. The first offers two varieties at Fedco Seeds Moose Tubers and the second site offers various varieties online at Oikos Tree Crops.com.


7 comments:

  1. Wonderful post...a few months back I highlighted helianthus and did a bit of research on JAs. I have never seen them here but have heard of them...fascinating and intrigues me to try them.

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  2. I must confess to never having eaten this. The flowers are cheerful enough to warrant garden space.

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  3. I see you have a taste for these tubers, so I thought I will put in some of my experience for the potential benefit of all. We grow Jerusalem artichokes (aka sunchokes) for years in our urban garden. We found over the years, that if we are more strict early summer with the seedlings and weed out a large number of them before they can get too dense we have a much better harvest. Meaning: bigger artichokes and smoother with less little fingers which makes them easier to clean and more attractive for the lazy cook. So we thin the plants to about 18'' between them in each direction. The plants also grow much bigger, most of the time they grow up to 10' high and the yield is incredible.

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    1. Dear Zsuzskaetal,

      Thank you so much for your comment. I will definitely make sure to remember this in the future for growing out my Jerusalem Artichokes. I did not know that changing how I grew these would result in better yields.

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  4. They do really well with string beans planted at their base, with Indian runner beans using them as a trellis, gorgeous color through out as I planted royal purple string beans and they even like peas growing through them. Makes for a pretty mixture of edible colors.

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    1. Dear Eileen,

      Thank you so much for the response. What area of the world/country do you live in? I am just asking because I am looking for a pole bean that can really take the heat. I have been told that runner beans are more of a cool climate vegetable, though I am always willing to try something new if others in my climate have had success with it.

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  5. I understand English but I don't write, I hope you understand me.
    We call them Topinambur or Topinambur.
    I Have a different type, the plant grows very high, with large leaves, and rarely blooms.
    http://www.fioridiaia.altervista.org/albums/anni-precedenti/autunno-2010/10-10-10-topinambour_650.jpg
    My favorite recipe is the sauce for pasta.
    I cut the tubers into very small cubes and stir fry them in a pan with olive oil, onion, salt and herbs. You can use them as they are, or first add tomatoes.
    The cubes should not melt. You can place them over already cooked pasta, or on a slice of bread.

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