Sunchokes are...

Originally posted on 10/7/2012

Sigh. I've tried, with this terrible photo, to show you how tall my sunchokes have grown. But the yellow flowers are so teeny tiny, they're hard to find in the shot, non? Well, look really hard, and when you do find them, notice that the arbour on the left of the image is over six feet tall, so the tallest of the plants (look at the top right) is close to 12 feet!

I've gotta say, I'm impressed with the strength of the stems. They've been blown hard by the wind but there they stand, tall and strong and presumably, busy making all sorts of lovely tubers down under ground.

OK, the 101 for folks who don't know these things: sunchokes are also know as Jerusalem artichokes, though that doesn't make geographical sense since they're from here. The plant is a member of the sunflower family, hence the yellow flowers and tall, tough stalks. It's native to Eastern North America and has been eaten since there were folks living on this land. Hmm...imagine sunchokes roasted over a fire with goose fat.... They're full of iron, C and B vitamins. Bonus!

Here's a close up of the flower. I think it's pretty enough to be part of any border or ornamental garden. And, look, here we are in October and the lovely things are still in bloom. They show no signs of giving up the ghost just yet. I'm sure the bees are happy for them. Hey, anything that adds colour this late in the season has my undying appreciation.

Underground, the roots reach out and just like potatoes, make fat, little tubers. They really do look quite like fingerling potatoes.

Speaking of potatoes, some folks call sunchokes, um, fart potatoes. Why, you ask? It's the inulin. They're loaded with the stuff and that stuff is catnip for our gut's biom. In other words, you eat inulin, the bugs living in our bowls go a little cra-cra.

I pulled up one plant today, even though it's still too early, but my impatience got the best of me...finally. I felt kind of naughty, but I picked a short plant that never even got around to flowering. That eased my guilt a tad.

I dug around the base - the ladies helped, of course - and found a handful of 'chokes. OK, don't let any real farmers here this, 'cause let's face it, they must hate city folks who get all excited about raising a tomato or two, but there is such a thrill in digging around in the dirt and discovering treasure! Yeah, yeah, I know, that would get real old, real fast if my life depended on it and if I did it from sunup to sundown. Still, indulge me, won't you?

I brought my handful in, washed it, didn't bother peeling - the skin seemed so tender and thin - then sliced. They are crispy and pure white inside, rather like an apple or potato. I didn't taste it raw, but I will next time.

My curiosity about these plants was piqued a few summers ago when I visited Manic Organic, Antony John's farm, Soiled Reputation, out in Perth County. As I hoofed it through a field that had recently been turned, I spotted what I thought were fingerling potatoes on the ground. I was wrong, they were sunchokes. I stuffed two or three into my pocket - I later confessed to Antony - and when I got home, carelessly stuffed them into the ground, no more than a couple of inches deep, then promptly forgot all about them. I can't even remember noticing any flowers. Perhaps all that happened were some greens? Anyway, while I was turning the soil, I dug them up, only now, where once there had been three, there were eight. And they were worm-eaten and nearly rotten, having sat in the ground over a wet, warm, winter. But it gave me hope and spurred me into action. If they could survive and multiply under such neglectful conditions, just imagine what they could do if I gave a damn!?

I looked everywhere for seed tubers to buy. Nadda. So, I emailed Antony - this is when I confessed - and asked him to sell me some of his. He said no, he would not sell me any. He would give me a great big bag of them. He sent them down to Edulis Restaurant with one of their regular deliveries of veggies, and there you go, and here I am. Now, a few years on, my garden is just brimming with them and I'm so excited for this year's harvest.

As for the taste? Well, I guess this is rather obvious, they taste like a cross between a potato and raw sunflower seeds. They're nice and crispy eaten raw and super soft and silky when cooked, unless you fry them into chips, and then they brilliantly crisp. And, a word of caution, they absorb oil like evil little sponges. Tasty, evil, little sponges.

Antony told me not to harvest until after two killing frosts. The plants will have died down dry and brown. Don't worry about replanting; they take care of themselves quite nicely thank you very much! I hope some of you will try sunchokes. They would be perfect for a sunny front yard garden. Even if you have dopy neighbours who don't like veggies in front, you could trick them with these!

Update: yup, they spread like mad! Check this bumper crop!

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