Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem Artichokes
Not from Jerusalem, nor are they artichokes. These are in fact the roots of helianthus tuberosus, which translates as the tuber-rooted sunflower. It is believed that the "Jerusalem" part of the name derives from "girasol", meaning to turn with the sun; as many flowers do. The artichoke part comes from a perceived similarity of flavour.

These are a very interesting vegetable, although not widely known. They are one of only two garden vegetables known to have originated in the Great Lakes region (the other is acorn squash) , so they are truly local in a way nothing else is. Also, because they store carbohydrates as inulin, they have a very unusual nutritional profile, and are often considered very appropriate for people with diabetes. However, the same inulin content makes them very prone to cause flatulence; they should be introduced to the diet fairly slowly if you are not accustomed to them.

If you look closely at the picture, you can see that there are two different colours of Jerusalem artichokes on the plate. Jerusalem artichokes, like potatoes, are grown from tubers which are clones, although in the Jerusalem artichokes the differences are very subtle and more of interest to the gardener than the chef. Once they are peeled, the remaining pale, creamy flesh is pretty much indistinguishable between varieties. Some varieties may be a bit rounder and smoother than others, making them easier to peel. I had a choice of two colours and I noticed that the darker red ones seemed more popular than the gold ones; there weren't many left for me to choose from when I bought them.

Unlike potatoes, they can be eaten raw, although I find them a tad starchy. They are crisp and juicy though, and would be a good source of crunch in salads or crudité plates. Quickly stir-fried, they make a good substitute for water chestnuts. In Victorian England, they became the basis of a popular soup called, inevitably, Palestine soup. They can be be steamed, boiled, fried or baked. Their flavour is subtle, but appealing. My mom says they remind her of jicama, and I can see the resemblance although they are not as delicately scented, I don't believe (it's been a good while since I've had a jicama!) Most people do peel them, but it isn't necessary; a good scrub will do.

I have not tried growing them, but I gather that they are both easy and difficult to grow, or rather, the difficulty lies in getting them to stop growing. They benefit from being dug and moved to new, enriched ground each year - they will produce larger, less knobby tubers this way - but if any bit of root is left behind in the old bed it will sprout and soon replace itself, so care must be taken when harvesting them. Even with care, you are likely to end up with permanent Jerusalem artichoke beds, so while I am interested in growing them I am going to think twice about where to put them. People describe them using words like "thug" and "bully", so be warned.

They should be planted in the spring, according to William Woys Weaver, and in mid-summer pruned to 18" in height then earthed up with rotted manure and mulch. I imagine this must delay the lovely golden blooms, but it should ensure good, big tubers. (Relatively speaking. Jerusalem artichokes are not so large as your average potato; golf ball size is typical, I would say.) Once the plant has been nipped by frost, the tubers can be dug up and enjoyed, or stored for later use.

Jerusalem Artichokes on Foodista


Joanne said...

I have heard of but never tasted Jerusalem Artichokes. From what you describe they seem like they would be a relative of jicama. But who really knows? Thanks for all the info about this new (for me) veggie!

kate said...

I have grown Jerusalem artichokes for many years. They need no care, eg fertilization or pruning, although I do take the flower heads off once they fade because I don't want these guys sending out seed. They are invasive and will grow anywhere, including under a black walnut. I have the red ones, and do peel them as the skin is a little tough. Best to peel in water with some lemon juice as they oxidize and turn gray almost immediately, though this is just an aesthetic issue, it doesn't affect the taste. They have a lovely flavour: mash with potatoes, throw into soups, or julienne raw in a vinaigrette... On other thing: you can only harvest in fall, when all the plant's energy has gone back to the root, or in spring, before the plant starts growing.

Ferdzy said...

Thanks, Kate. Black walnuts, eh? I'm interested, but I have to say these guys do sound a little scary.

Samantha Gowers said...

I live in London Ontario and have been looking EVERYWHERE for these little guys with little to no luck. Any idea where they can typically be found ?

Ferdzy said...

Samantha, I would try farmers markets first but I have even occasionally seen them at regular grocery stores; you should ask. But I do think farmers markets are the best bet.

Amygdala999 said...

I'm guessing this is a bit late to post, but I have found LOTS of Jerusalem artichokes (in season) at the outdoor farmers market on Saturdays (morning) outside of Covent Garden Market in London (ON). I even saw some last weekend (just before we got a big snow, so I'm not sure how many will be there next week). Anyway, for sure most of the organic farms at the outdoor market had them for many weeks this year.

Any clues on how I might find Jicama in London??

Ferdzy said...

Hi Amygdala;

Glad to hear you are finding them around! I haven't seen any locally this year; I will probably have to break down and plant my own.

As for jicama, alas it is a tropical plant, so it will be imported. I tried growing it once, and I can't say it did at all well. I understand that like a lot of tropical plants, the problem is not so much the temperatures/growing season, but their inability to handle the long summer days we get. They won't start bulking up until there are fewer than 9 hours of sunlight a day. You could try to keep them going for a while longer under a hoop house.

Thanks for commenting!