Log Cabin Chronicles

Royal Orr

Jerusalem Artichokes: every gardener ought to grow them once


It must have been last April, maybe even late March, browsing through the fruit and vegetable section of Houde's grocery store in Ayer's Cliff, when I had my fateful encounter with Jerusalem artichokes.

Houde's is a remarkable place -- a small town grocery store where every week there's something new that you've heard of but never tried eating before. Exotic -- or just plain odd -- foods from around the globe.

Though, of course, Jerusalem artichokes aren't really from Jerusalem. They're not artichokes either. They're knobby little tubers that look like a cross between a potato and a ginger root and they're considerably more American than apple pie.

So I bought a few, with the best of intentions, but they got shuffled into the bottom drawer of the fridge where things age until they're too wizened or wasted for human consumption. I imagine you have a drawer like that in your refrigerator, that drawer you avoid checking until earthy smells start wafting through the kitchen.

The fungal sirocco began blowing in early June. There were three carrots (I think), a completely desiccated bunch of spinach, and an evil-looking bag of semi-digested celery stalks. And the Jerusalem artichokes -- a bit withered, but in pretty good shape given the company they'd been keeping.

I'd just come in from digging in the kitchen garden, so I carried the tubers out to a corner beside the asparagus bed where nothing grows very well for lack of sunshine and dropped them into three little holes about five inches deep.

Now, in September, the plants that sprouted from them are as tall as the porch roof. Each warm day they seem to grow another two inches and their stalks are half the size of your wrist at the base. When they started to pull ahead of the asparagus fronds, I thought I better get to know more about them.

Eaten raw, cooked or marinated, they're said to be a good substitute for water chestnuts or potatoes. Lots of potassium, as well as a good source of iron, thiamin and a slew of other important nutrients.

"Marries well with poultry and leeks," according to one recipe book. Makes a very healthful flour when dried and a potent vodka if you're into homemade bathtub hooch.

Produces more tons of tubers per acre than potatoes or turnips.

Sounds like God's answer to humanity's nutritional prayers, doesn't it. But there's no such thing as a free lunch and here's the price you pay.

The vegetable is packed with insulin. Go easy at first because this can cause flatulence in the uninitiated. Might be a good trick to play on your minister or your boss. Invite her over for your family's traditional Jerusalem artichoke and bean casserole.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Flatulence is an understatement. I have grown many, many 'chokes and have eaten many, many 'chokes and I can attest to their latent mega-flatulency.]

Strangely enough, some researchers are looking at the Jerusalem artichoke as food for pigs because it's believed by some to reduce the smell of their manure. Windy swine, but a nice wind, I guess.

And, too late, I'm now reading reports that once you've planted them, they're all but impossible to get rid of. Keep sprouting for years, eventually taking over the whole front lawn and the back forty as well.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Har, har...I wondered when he'd find that out. Look out, Royal -- you'll be surprised for years.]

Beautiful plants, though.

Come October, drop on by. See what kind of crop we got. Maybe have a bite of casserole with me and the missus.

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