Diversified subsistence farming in Whatcom County, WA since 2005
Sunchokes – food that grows like a weed!
Although sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes) are old news to veteran gardeners, they’re new to us at Seven Trees. Thanks to our Endorrean friends, we will be planting our own crop of these versatile tubers soon. Or maybe I should say we’ll be unleashing these edible weeds, since they tend to take over any space they are given. Luckily we have just the spot. Our paddock 5 fronts a busy road, and already has a nice patch of thimble berries for visual screening, wildlife habitat, and critter snacking. Interplanting with sunchokes will work great there. Here’s a picture of one variety of sunchoke being harvested. And below is another. Moose Tubers (a sub-company of Fedco Seeds) has 3 kinds of sunchokes for sale. Ronniger’s has a few as well.
Some “technical” info: Helianthus tuberosus is a type of sunflower that is grown for its edible tuberous roots as well as its pretty yellow flowers. This is a large, gangly, multibranched perennial with rough, sandpapery leaves and stems, and numerous yellow flowerheads. It can get 10 ft (3 m) tall and its branches can spread to nearly as much. They sometimes break under their own weight, and often fall over. The leaves are ovate (broadest below the middle) and 5-10 in (12.7-25.4 cm) long. The flowerheads are 3-4 (7.6-10 cm) across and have 10-20 bright yellow rays. Jerusalem artichoke is quite showy in bloom during late summer and early fall. The edible tubers are produced just below the ground on thin white rhizomes. They are segmented and knobby, 1-4 in (2.5-10 cm) long, and have crisp, white flesh. More than a dozen cultivars have been selected and named. ‘Fusau’, a French cultivar, has fewer knobs and is thus easy to clean, but some say it isn’t as flavorful as knobbier types. ‘Maine Giant’ produces dense creamy white tubers. ‘Golden Nugget’ has elongated, carrotlike tubers.
Jerusalem artichoke is very easy to grow in almost any loose, moderately well drained soil. They almost certainly will spread out of their original planting, so be prepared to pull up plants that get out of bounds. If you want them to stay fairly neat, they may require staking.
Light: Full sun to partial shade.
Moisture: Regular garden watering gives the best tuber production, but Jerusalem artichokes can tolerate dry periods if they have to.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 – 9.
Propagation: Propagate Jerusalem artichokes from the tubers which should be planted in spring or soon after the first frost in fall, 3-6 in (7.6-15.2 cm) deep and about 2 ft (0.6 m) apart.
After harvest, there are always plenty of tubers still left in the ground, and these will sprout the following spring. Just thin them out as they come up to maintain a spacing of 2 ft (0.6 m) or so. If the ground freezes deeply in your area, you should overwinter your “seed chokes” in a cool, dry place for spring planting.
A little history:
Sir Walter Raleigh found Native Americans cultivating sunroots in what is now Virginia in 1585. When the sunchoke reached Europe in the early 1600s, thanks to Samuel de Champlain, it was known as the “Canada” or “French” potato. The French, who call it topinambour (incidentally also a term used for an uncouth, uneducated person), are credited with improving the tubers and cultivating sunchokes on a larger scale. I imagine the reference to uncouthness has something to do with the inulin (an undigestible sugar) in sunchokes causing flatulence in some people.
The yummy-looking mashed chokes & tatties above are next on our recipe list. So far we’ve only tried them roasted with carrots & potatoes with a chicken. Tasty!
Chunky Jerusalem Artichoke And Potato Mash
1 pound Jerusalem artichokes, unpeeled, scrubbed, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
3 tablespoons butter
Combine Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes in large pot. Pour enough cold water over to cover; add 1 tablespoon coarse salt. Bring to boil; reduce heat and boil gently until all vegetables are tender when pierced with knife, about 18 minutes. Drain, reserving cooking liquid. Return vegetables to pot. Mash vegetables, adding reserved cooking liquid by 1/2 cupfuls to moisten until chunky mixture forms. Stir in butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl and serve. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Transfer mash to large heatproof bowl. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm in same bowl set over simmering water, stirring occasionally, before serving.