Tuesday, October 21, 2008

In Bloom in the Garden - Sun chokes

What native American plant has an edible tuberous root and is a close family connection to the sunflower? Give up? The so-called Jerusalem artichoke!

Not from Jerusalem and certainly not an artichoke, how could we have perpetuated such an appalling misnomer? Since our country’s beginnings when the Spanish called it girasole, their word for flowers attracted to the sun (now loosely translated into Jerusalem), this plant has been misrepresented by its own name. Called artichoke because the early settlers compared its flavor to globe artichoke, it is properly Helianthus tuberousa, a name meaning tuberous rooted sunflower. Sunny flowered it is, blooming now from Nova Scotia to Georgia you can spot it easily. Even our gardening-challenged neighbors have pointed and said “What’s that plant?”.

The edible tuberous roots are starch free and contain inulin, a carbohydrate the body converts into a natural form of sugar making them particularly valuable in all diets especially diabetic or other restricted diets.

Pseudo-potatoes, mild and flavorful, they can be made into delicious dishes by preparing them the same way you would the more popular potato. Smaller, only two to four inches or so they are also slightly lower in calorie count and have their own flavor, so don’t compare them to other veggies.

Steam them, boil them, cook with an oven roast for 30-45 minutes or fry them. They mix well with green vegetables, giving a crunchy texture many find highly desirable. Saute the sliced sunchoke roots with onions in oil for a few minutes then stir fry in some chard, spinach, beet greens or broccoli for an epicurean dish. Season as you wish with salt and pepper or a bit of garlic, savory and a touch of mint is nice or try a dash of nutmeg for indefinable goodness. Bake them, add to casseroles, cream of celery soup, slice thinly for salads, pickle them, or cut as crudites for dips. Their nut like flavor is similar to water chestnuts.

The beauty of sunchokes is they are ridiculously easy to grow. Sun or shade, rich or poor soil, wet or dry places, weeded or cultivated, they always produce a crop. Once planted you will always have them for they are remarkably hardy, pest free and easily propagated. Strong perennials, sometimes growing to 12 feet tall, should be planted a foot and a half apart in an out of the way corner where they will make an effective screen or summer hedge. You must harvest them or tubers left in the ground will multiply and get out of control. That’s a word to the wise.

Growing easily everywhere, this wildflower can be left in the ground until needed so storage is no problem. No need to spend precious energy processing or freezing sunchokes. When you dig them , you can count on a pound of the knobby tubers per plant. It’s easy enough to perpetuate your supply by leaving the smallest ones in the ground for next years harvest.
Known to the Native Americans as “Askibwan” a name not likely to catch hold (meaning “raw thing”) they taught the colonists to use the roots as food. Even if you choose not to nibble on the root the golden yellow daisy like flowers, more a floppy daisy than a sunflower, and always growing in a cluster of three are a pretty bonus to the garden. Pick them now for an enjoyable fall flower arrangement with no damage to the crop.


Linda said...

I appreciate and enjoy all the beutiful photos and the information you share with us! I have heard of the Jerusalem atrichoke but thought it was an artichoke!!!

La Tea Dah said...

A very interesting post. I have not grown this plant --- but you inspire me (as always!). Thanks!


lemonverbenalady said...

I read where someone tilled their sunchoke plot hoping to get rid of them. It multiplied them!

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!