This week I dug up about 1/3 of my Jerusalem artichokes. The yield was 15 pounds of tubers. Pretty good for a crop that you plant just once, huh?
What’s Jerusalem artichoke?
Well, for starters, it’s not at all like an artichoke. It bears no resemblance to the artichoke and is only a distant cousin. The Jerusalem artichoke (also called sunchoke and sometimes sunroot or earth apple. The French and some other
Europeans call it topinambour, after a Brazilian native tribe associated with it.)
As its Latin name (Helianthus tuberosus) indicates, it’s in the sunflower family. It looks very much like a sunflower. It will grow as tall as 10 feet, though most are in the 4-6′ range, making it a stunning addition to your landscape. The edible part is a tuberous root, which you can dig up beginning early spring to late fall.
Plant once and forget it
That’s right. Find a nice little corner of your yard, plant 2-3 of these tubers and wait. After a couple years, they will have multiplied and you can start harvesting. They will produce food for you year after year with no more work than digging a few of them up every year.
To harvest, dig up the plants when the soil is relatively dry. You will find bunches of knobby tubers at the roots. Be sure to leave a few behind to grow for next year’s crop. If you were in SHTF survival mode you would probably only dig them up in the early spring, when you’d eaten all the food from last year’s garden and you had a shortage of fresh vegetables. Spring harvest would also ensure that the plants would have all summer to grow, get bigger and put out new tubers. But I rather like the flavor better in the fall. Either way, they are a yummy (and unusual) addition to your menu.
They DO have flaws
This video gives a lot of good information on the Jerusalem artichoke, including two flaws:
1-The plants are nearly indestructible, so be careful where you plant them. When I first got them I didn’t yet have a bed for my perennial vegetable garden, so I just planted them on the side of the yard. A couple years later I dug them all up and replanted them in the (now established) perennial bed. Or so I thought. Later that year, there were plants growing where I thought I’d dug everything up. Two years later I’m still digging up strays.
2-They can cause gas. Not smelly like beans do, but definitely audible, so you might not want to eat them if you have a big date later that night. I’m looking into gas-prevention methods and will report on what I find.
So, what do you do with 15 pounds of tubers?
You can use them like just about any other root: roasted, mashed, French fried, au gratin, in soups or grated or sliced into salads. Most of the Nelson family agrees that we like it raw much better than cooked. The tuber is very irregular and knobby, so peeling can be a hassle. But the skin is very thin, so if using it raw or even roasted, I just scrub it well to remove all dirt and eat it with the skin.
There are dozens of recipes online and I have been experimenting with them this last week. Next fall I hope to have a recipe booklet for you with a couple dozen of the best recipes I can find. In the meantime, try this yummy salad. When I made it I substituted fennel for the celery. It was a hit.
Or try this month’s featured recipe: Jerusalem Artichoke Cheddar Soup. This is our family’s favorite (so far.) Even if you don’t have any Jerusalem artichoke, you have to try this recipe. Try substituting another root: parsnip, turnip or rutabaga are all good substitutes in this recipe.
If you want to have a vegetable that never fails, may I suggest giving the Jerusalem artichoke an honored place in your perennial vegetable garden bed?