Along the boundary fence with our neighbours we have a thick line of jerusalem artichokes, interspersed between coppiced hazel bushes. The artichokes grow up to about 8 foot in our garden and occasionally they flower, with sunflower-like yellow heads, if September is really sunny and warm. I know that elsewhere they grow vigorously and flower reliably, making a great cut flower (see Christina’s In-a-vase post). Our jerusalem artichokes were planted so long ago that I really don’t remember how we came by them. I don’t think that I bought them, so they were probably a swap or division and once you have a patch of these vegetables, you will always have a patch. Then you can share them too. In fact, if jerusalem artichokes like their environment you may need to apply containment or reduction measures. With our heavy clay soil and (usually) dry summers, we are in the happy situation that whilst they always come back after cropping, they don’t spread much at all.
On the other hand our sticky clay soil makes harvesting them in winter a messy task and with the ground being so sodden of late I haven’t even tried to dig any up this season until now. But time is getting on, Christmas is behind us and I really fancied eating some this week. So on Sunday I dug some up:
Once they were cleaned up, they didn’t look so bad:
Since this was the first serving of the year, I wanted to enjoy their unadulterated crunchy, nutty taste, so I simply boiled them in their skins for about 15-20 minutes, until soft, and served them with a choice of dipping sauces – hollandaise, a balsamic vinagrette, a little butter …
Typically we don’t eat the skins, after all the best bit is the soft inner flesh that tastes rather like a cross between water chestnuts and globe artichokes. I have found that it is easiest to peel the tubers after they are cooked, not before. By splitting them down the middle, it becomes a straightforward matter of easing the outsides away from the white flesh. I have read that a carbohydrate called inulin is concentrated in the tubers, particularly in the skin, and since inulin is not easily digest in the gut (and can cause flatulence), peeling the skins away seems like a great idea. Alys Fowler, writing in the Guardian newpaper, has an interesting acclimatisation approach to this problem.
Anyhow, our first dish of jerusalem artichokes was delicious and now I am inspired to try out a whole load of other recipes and ways of preparing them. For instance, today I sautéed some with banana shallots in a cross between a Jamie Oliver recipe and a Bon Appetit recipe. This was tasty, especially served warm with thin slices of seedy wholemeal bread.
If you don’t have you own tubers to try, then most of the main supermarkets seem to being selling them in small quantities now. If it turns out that you like them them and you want to start growing your own, then it is easy to get hold of varieties like ‘Fuseau’ or a red-skinned french variety called ‘Gerard’ from suppliers like Thompson and Morgan. (Sometimes jerusalem artichoke are referred to as ‘sunchokes’ or ‘sunroots’)