Jerusalem artichokes, a member of the sunflower family, typically grow to be ten feet tall or taller. Photo by Carole Coates
Sure, I’ve eaten Jerusalem artichokes, or sunchokes. But I’d never grown them—until we bought some last fall at the local farmers’ market. “Can we plant these?” my husband asked. Assured that we could, we bought a few to eat and a few more to store in the fridge until spring. Well, spring has come and gone and fall is in full swing. Time to figure out what to do with all those sunchokes.
Nuisance Weed or Gourmet Veggie?
What a funny name for a plant that’s related neither to Jerusalem nor artichokes. Instead, this perennial is in the sunflower family and can often be found growing along roadsides. It has a reputation for being invasive, which may be how it came to be known as a weed. But it has a long history as a healthy food source. And to a gardener or forager, there's nothing like good food that's also free.
We reserved a small, enclosed raised bed to plant our tubers. (Be careful of any plant that’s touted as ‘easy to grow,’ especially in less than ideal conditions.) We had no idea whether they’d produce, especially since they’d grown pretty soft during our winter’s storage. And they did take a long time to emerge from the soil.
An Easy Grow, Prolific Harvest
We planted nine tubers. A couple didn’t make it, after all. But the rest finally sprouted. We waited impatiently for the long growing season to end and the stalks to die back so we could dig up the roots.
We were harvesting our last round of garden goodness prior to our first predicted freeze when we decided it was time to check out the sunchoke bed. After digging up up the tubers from only two plants, I yelled, “Stop!” Our refrigerator was already overflowing with carrots, beets, rutabagas, and kohlrabi. How could we find room for the more than three gallons of chokes we’d just dug? From only two-sevenths of our plants! We’re leaving the rest in the ground, to dig as needed. After all, they’re said to be tastier after first frost when they develop a nuttier flavor.
See this serving bowl overflowing with Jerusalem artichokes? That's not quite half of our harvest from just one plant! Did I mention they're prolific? Photo by Carole Coates
Ever since our initial dig, I’ve been researching ways to eat and preserve this bountiful plant. I’ve barely scratched the surface trying out new recipes, and I’m eager to share what I’ve found.
Good for You
The experts agree: Sunchokes are good for you. According to Foodprint.org,“sunchokes are an excellent source of iron, potassium and thiamin. They are also low in calories and high in fiber. Inulin, the primary carbohydrate in sunchokes, minimally affects blood sugar and is touted as a diabetic-friendly carb.”
Storing and Eating Sunchokes
Store Jerusalem artichokes in the vegetable crisper section of the fridge from two weeks to a couple of months wrapped in a paper or cloth towel and sealed in a plastic bag. But be careful—the tubers look suspiciously like ginger. You don't want to confuse them.
Of course, you can eat sunchokes raw. You’ll never bite into anything more crisp and juicy. No need to peel. Just wash and scrub thoroughly with a vegetable brush. Sliced, they’re an excellent addition to a garden salad. Similar to water chestnuts in texture and flavor, they make a fine substitute in a stir fry.
But there are other ways to eat Jerusalem artichokes, as well. Sauté them in a little butter. Boil, mash, and prepare the same way you’d prepare potatoes. They won’t taste the same—they have their own unique flavor, but they’re super creamy and tasty in their own right. Toss them into a stew. Roast them with other root veggies or alone or make a gratin, either by themselves or in combination with parsnips, rutabaga, or other roots of your choice. Soup is a good way to prepare chokes on a cold winter day. You can grate them for a hashbrown substitute, too. You can even freeze your chokes for future use by blanching for a couple of minutes and chilling for an equal amount of time. Or you can pickle them. Here’s a recipe to try. Ellen Zachos, the Backyard Forager, shares recipes from chips to cake using these versatile veggies.
So, it’s just fine that Jerusalem artichokes are so prolific. There are plenty of ways to eat them, from appetizer to dessert. Bon appétit!
You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.
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