In late summer there are many different yellow sunflower-ish flowers blooming in sunny spots in roadside ditches, along trails and field-side. One of these tall yellow bloomers is Jerusalem artichoke and there is a delicious edible vegetable growing underground beneath it. These 6’-9’ tall plants are in the sunflower family and produce yellow 4” in diameter flowers on a multi-branched stem. The leaves have a rough, hairy texture and range in size from 12” on the lower part of the stem to much smaller as they progress upward.
The Jerusalem artichoke name is deceptive because these plants have nothing to do with Jerusalem and don’t look like artichokes, nor are they related botanically. The plant is native to central North America and when Italian settlers arrived, they called it “girasole,” the Italian word for sunflower. Over time, the pronunciation was corrupted to “Jerusalem.” The artichoke part of the name comes from French explorers who sent the tubers back to France noting that the taste was similar to that of artichokes.
The Latin name for Jerusalem artichoke is Helianthus tuberosus. It has several other common names including sunchoke, sunroot, earth apple, French potato, Canada potato, lambchoke and Canadian truffle.
The edible part of the plant is the below-ground tuber which looks much like ginger root. Tubers vary in color from pale brown to red, purple and white. Tubers grow 3”-4” long and 1”-2” in diameter.
Tubers are dug in fall after the plants have died down, and can be dug anytime until the ground freezes. To harvest, cut back the dead growth above ground and use a digging fork to lift the clumps of tubers. Any stray tubers can be carefully lifted by hand. Allow some tubers to remain in the ground to ensure a continuous crop. Some may break in the harvesting process and those should be used first as they won’t store as long as intact tubers. They can be stored unwashed in the refrigerator for several weeks if you aren’t ready to use them right away.
Raw tubers have a crispy texture similar to that of water chestnut and a sweet, nutty taste. While they can be eaten raw, eating a large amount of them will cause flatulence so other people will appreciate it if you decide to cook them in some way. A few tubers sliced thinly in a salad, though, should allow you to preserve your friendships. When baked or roasted Jerusalem artichokes become soft like potatoes. They can also be boiled, steamed, sauteed, microwaved, fried or pickled. When mashed Jerusalem artichoke is added to mashed potatoes, they add a nutty depth of flavor.
THEY ARE GOOD FOR YOU!
Jerusalem artichokes are a good source of potassium and iron. They contain 10-12% of the US RDA of fiber, niacin, thiamine, phosphorus, and copper. They are low in fat and cholesterol free.
FAILED MARKETING SCHEME
In an effort to save family farms in the 1980s, some Midwestern farmers lost a lot of money from a failed scheme to develop Jerusalem artichoke, renamed “Sunchoke” for marketing purposes, as a cash crop. There was little market for the tubers at that time, as ethanol was still just a dream, fructose wasn’t yet a major player as a commercial sweetener, and the fresh food market wasn’t what it is today. The only people who got rich from the scheme were a few first-year growers who sold seed to other farmers.
Jerusalem Artichoke Chiffon Pie
Recipe from Euell Gibbons
1 9-inch pie shell
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. white sugar
1 envelope of unflavored gelatin
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
3 eggs, yolks and whites separated
1/2 c. milk
1 1/4 c. cooked and mashed artichokes
Combine brown sugar, gelatin and pumpkin pie spice in a saucepan. Beat 3 egg yolks; add milk and stir this into the brown sugar mixture. Cook and stir until mixture boils; remove from heat and stir in the mashed artichokes. Chill until the mixture mounds slightly when spooned, approximately one hour. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, then gradually add the white sugar. Continue beating until stiff peaks form. Fold the slightly stiffened artichoke mixture into the egg whites and pile it all into the pie crust. Chill in the fridge and serve with whipped cream.
Jerusalem Artichokes with Cream Sauce
1 ½ lbs. Jerusalem artichokes
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 c. hot milk or cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash and scrape artichokes and drop into boiling, salted water. Cook until tender. Drain. To make white sauce, melt butter over low heat. Blend in four. Slowly stir in milk or cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and pour over cooked artichokes. Serve hot. Serves 6-8.
Alternate serving suggestion: Cook artichokes as above. Melt 2 T. butter. Add 1 t. white wine, a few drops of Tabasco sauce and some chopped parsley. Pour over artichokes.
Scalloped Jerusalem Artichokes
Scrub or peel artichokes. Slice each tuber in ¼” slices. In a wok or frying pan, heat olive oil and butter on medium-high heat. Add sliced artichokes, garlic, salt, pepper and parsley. Stir to coat artichokes. Stir-fry for about 4 minutes, stirring often. Do not overcook artichokes; they should be slightly crunchy.