Updated: May 3
Here's a plant with funny roots, many names, a long history and never ending stories!
What's in a name? This plant has an interesting history that is worth reading about. Commonly called the Jerusalem Artichoke, the sunchoke has nothing related to the globe artichoke. It is a species of sunflower and the roots are the edible part (unlike the artichoke's flower bud). It is native to North America and is not from Jerusalem. Some will also call it fartichoke, because of the inulin "wind" effect to some people... I much prefer calling this a sunchoke, as it is more appealing and related to the pretty yellow flowers of the tall plant. "Topinambour" is the French term but topinambur is also used in various languages. Tubers were a food source to indigenous peoples and were introduced to French Canadian settlers to survive the winter in the early years of colonisation. I never saw or tasted them when I was Québec as they fell into obscurity with time ... before a recent revival celebrating native food. I was curious and found some tubers for planting when I started to grow food, but in Australia. Sunchokes are definitely one of the most economic edible roots I know as one little tuber can produce a heap more of them! From the 3 little tubers I once bought and sown, came many funny stories that I will never be able to get rid of... just like the plant!
We were living in Batlow back then (at my mother-in-laws farm) but in the process to move to Tumbarumba, so I planted 2 at the farm and one in my new backyard garden. We were all impressed of the tall plant and how productive these little funny looking roots had been. I was really excited and tried some tasting recipes. I served a very small amount as an entree as it was the first time and was not sure what the inulin effect would have on me and my husband... I didn't want to repel or scare him with it so I did not mention anything about the gut "risks"(silly me)... He really loved the sunchokes taste and I was (and still am) not sure I liked it so much, but I felt fine. In the night, I heard that was a different thing to him... (oops). The next morning, before going to work (oops), he was a little worried there was something wrong in his guts. Then I told him it was just the "fartichokes"(oops)... His mum had a huge laugh about the story and also gave it a go as there was so many now to dig up in her garden. Like me, she was curious about the health benefits. She cooked them as chips (and had lots of them ...even after being warned). She learned her lesson... Anyway, both of them never wanted to eat them again and as I was not a huge fan myself, we sold tubers in markets and gave some to friends and family members (with a warning). We tried to remove them from our gardens but as they are still coming back, we keep sharing them again!
Last year I introduced the sunchokes to my neighbours and they loved it despite everything, which is great as they cannot consume potatoes. I offered them a big tuber for sowing that they planted in their compost patch. The plant went so tall and big, way over 3 meters! After a first look, we think there is about 8 kg of sunchokes in the ground. I wonder what will be the next stories coming from these ones!
Sneaking in my neighbours yard • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2021
GROWING & COOKING TIPS
Sunchokes are quite easy to grow and do not require much attention other than full sun and water... Just make sure to give enough space and plant somewhere you won't mind them coming back. Tubers can be prepared like potatoes but the taste is a lot more earthy. They also don't store the same way and perish quickly so it is best to leave them in the ground and dig them up as needed... I found that stored in a sealed bag with sand in a cool dark place can work if having to keep some tubers until spring. Some people will eat it raw but like most root veggies, I prefer them cooked. Even though I am not a huge fan of them, I reckon they are great in pureed soup and pan fried. Beside the wind effect, they have amazing nutritional features as the dietary inulin fibre is beneficial for the gut and health. And a big plus against the potatoes, they won't make you fat. I have dug them all out each year and there is always a little bulb left somewhere shooting back each spring. So: I've decided to stop fighting and enjoy the pretty yellow flower each summer's end. If any locals want to taste and/or grow them, let me know!
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