We keep trying new veggies to see if we like them enough to add them to our garden. Kale didn’t impress us. We prefer not to speak of the night we tried collards. Neither one of us has the fortitude to suggest okra. Most new stuff we try gets a meh. Not bad, but not good enough to slave over all summer.
But when we finally got our hands on some Jerusalem artichokes, the reaction was: “Where have you been all my life?”
I have no idea why more people don’t grow these. I have no idea why they aren’t in more grocery stores. Jerusalem artichokes, also known as Sunchokes, are a perennial root crop. Above ground they make what looks like a wild sunflower plant which can reach 10 feet in height. Below ground they produce prolific crops of tubers that look like ginger, are as crisp as water chestnuts, and taste like nutty potatoes. They are a good food for diabetics because their mild sweetness comes from a form of fructose rather than sucrose. They are native to North America and have no connection to Jerusalem, nor are they in any way related to artichokes. There are a lot of theories, but no one really knows how they came by this common name.
I bought the first Jerusalem artichokes we tasted from the local organic food co-op. Farmer’s markets and fancier grocery stores like Haggen and Whole Foods carry them seasonally in their produce sections, as well. The tubers I planted, however, I bought by mail from Jung Seed. I think I paid about $8.00 for one pound of small tubers, which I planted whole in a raised bed. They are notoriously invasive, so I am keeping mine contained. On the bright side, this invasiveness means that they can withstand frequent harvesting throughout the year once established.
I made the first harvest from our crop (which was planted this spring) just a few days ago and I was thrilled with the size and quantity of tubers. They were much bigger and firmer than the little nuggets we got at the co-op.
So far all we have done with our harvest is pan fry them in butter with a little salt and pepper. (I think they’d taste good with tarragon, but I’m biased.) You can do just about anything with Jerusalem artichokes that you might do with potatoes, but when pan frying them you do not need to pre-boil or microwave them as you would with potatoes. They take much less cooking time than potatoes. My sources tell me that Jerusalem artichokes are suitable for roasting (magnificent alongside a whole chicken!), adding to soups and stews (I’m throwing some in with tonight’s pot roast), mashing, and (this is the one that excites me the most) latkes.
This is one “exotic” foodstuff we can wholeheartedly recommend for your garden. It’s pretty, it’s tasty, it’s a perennial – you can’t lose!