So what’s a sunchoke anyway?

I wrote about harvesting and cooking with sunchokes a couple of posts ago. But whenever I mention these wondrous little things, I usually get some confused looks. One thing is, they have many names. These great little tubers are called sunchokes, Jerusalem artichokes (despite having nothing to do with Jerusalem nor with artichokes), sunroots… They are tubers (as are potatoes), but from a plant in the sunflower family. Not hard to believe the sunflower connection when you see them in bloom in the summer and fall.


Sunchoke blossoms


Sunchokes are prolific producers and tend to spread easily in the garden. There have been times over the past few years that I’ve silently (and lovingly) cursed whoever planted them in the tiny Withrow school garden. There’s a small’ish patch of them tucked away between some big rocks by the fence, but we often find them sprouting up all around the garden, taking over any space they can. If you’re ever tempted to plant them, do so in a container or far away from anything else you want to grow. Despite some lingering fears of sunchoke takeovers, I have grown to love them. The plants are beautiful, especially when in bloom. They grow, every year, no matter what. With very little effort, I know there’ll always be something for the kids to dig up, even in those years when other things didn’t do too well. And kids love digging up tubers, like potatoes and sunchokes – it’s like a little treasure hunt. Sunchokes are especially fun because of their wonky shapes.

This fall we had an especially prolific sunchoke harvest at the Withrow school garden. The Garden Club kids harvested about 10 pounds, and I’m absolutely sure there were plenty that stayed in the ground (which means more and more plants next year…). We cooked some during our Garden Club cooking session and I always offer some for kids and teachers to take home, but at the end of the day, my fridge is still pretty full of them. I’m not even sure where to donate them, as they are a relatively unknown vegetable. I have given some away to friends and I keep chipping away at them in my own kitchen, so I promise you they won’t go to waste. If you’re not somewhere near me and my crisper drawer, yet want to try these wonderful veggies, I’m finding that more and more farmers have them at markets. I haven’t really seen them in grocery stores yet (though some natural/health food stores have them).  (Disclaimer: if/when you decide to try sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes, please know that they’re nicknamed fartichokes. I don’t think I need to explain that any further.)

With the amounts of sunchokes I’ve been flooded with over the years at Withrow, I’ve looked for some interesting ways to use them. The simplest thing is to give them a good scrub (I don’t usually peel them) and roast them with your other root veggies. I also really like these super simple sauteed sunchokes as done by Jamie Oliver. When they turn out perfectly, they’re crunchy and garlicky on the outside, while the sweet inside melts in your mouth. Mmm… They also make a delicious puree soup. There are lots of raw recipes for them, though I haven’t tried any of those yet. I’ve fermented some in my kimchi-inspired fermentation creations, and they’ve turned out delicious. (I’ve even read that since fermentation starts to break down the veggies before you eat them, fermented Jerusalem artichokes are, well, less likely to be referred to as fartichokes…) (If you’re looking for fermenting recipes/inspiration, check out Sandor Katz’s website and books – I borrowed Wild Fermentation from the library and just got The Art of Fermentation for Christmas. Good information and interesting reading.) But probably the most creative sunchoke recipe I have yet to find is for a Sunroot Spice Cake. I made it with a friend a couple of months ago, and it was definitely worth it. It really keeps the earthy sunchoke flavour, which lends itself really well to this delicious moist cake. Mmmm… might be time to cook up another…

Have you tried sunchokes? Any favourite recipes?

Happy growing (and cooking)!

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