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Tuesday, 01 March 2011 16:36

Jerusalem Artichokes

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jerusalem artichokesJerusalem Artichokes are a strange plant, or you could say a wrongly named vegetable. They aren't from Jerusalem and they certainly aren't an artichoke. Instead they originate in North America and are part of the sunflower family, in Italy they're known as Girasola Artiocco (the sunflower artichoke) and in the States they're called a Sunchoke.

Unlike the Globe Artichoke which is grown for its thistle flower head, the Jerusalem Artichoke is grown for the sweet, nutty tasting brown tuber which looks like a knobbly odd shaped root.

Some believe the root is an untapped health food - the carbohydrate found in Jerusalem artichokes is a safe choice for diabetics and it contains a prebiotic which helps to keep the intestinal tract healthy.

They are easily grown; prepare the bed by working in compost and adding fertiliser such as blood and bone. Whilst they prefer a well fertilised friable soil with lots of compost added, they can be grown in clay or poor soil - but they will produce fewer smaller tubers and consequently your yield will be lower.

The plants are grown from tubers - I struggled to find any in our local nurseries, but did manage to buy a whole plant. Planted out it will produce the tubers - some we will eat and the rest will be saved for planting next season.

Plant in late winter - mound the soil (to make harvesting the vegetable easier) and bury the tubers 10 - 15cm deep. The plants will start to sprout in early spring. Snails love the new shoots; use whatever method you are comfortable with to protect your vegetables from slugs and snails.

The shoots will develop into 2 metre tall plants with bright yellow blooms, like a small sunflower. While you are enjoying the flowers the root vegetable is developing underground.

These plants are drought tolerate and whilst it is a good idea to water them, be careful not to overdo it.

jerusalem artichoke flowerHarvest in autumn when the plant has died back. Cut off the plant and gently dig out the tubers. A good plant should produce 75 tubers - keep some for re-planting in late winter.

Rotate your beds every 3 years to ensure you have big healthy tubers. It can be a challenge - any small tuber left behind will sprout. I have heard that using a pig to 'clean up' the bed is ideal but it's not always practical. You may have to live with the odd one coming up where you hadn't planned from time to time.

They are an unusual vegetable which I'm told sells readily at Farmers Markets - if presented well. Print out some recipe ideas and prepare to be swamped by people wanting to try something a bit different.

I have come across many recipes for this delicious 'choke'. Chop or grate them into hearty winter soups and stews. They can be eaten raw in a simple salad - peel and grate and serve with vinaigrette or creamy mayonnaise dressing. Poach in milk and cream for a side dish. Roast them in their skins like you would potatoes. Boil them, and once cooled toss through chopped fresh herbs and add vinaigrette. Grate and add to savoury muffins or fritters. The possibilities are endless - enjoy.