A versatile tuber, easy to grow and easy to eat

Jerusalem artichokes are low maintenance and nutritious, writes Kitty Scully.

Jerusalem artichokes are now in season and are such a tremendously hardy tuber, that they survive in the ground all winter and can be chiselled out of frosted soil to make a delicious meal. Despite their name, Jerusalem artichokes are not artichokes and they don’t come from Jerusalem.

These small knobbly tubers are considered by some as food fit only as animal fodder. However, it could be argued that these timely tubers have piles of potential and make an inexpensive, tasty and nutritious addition to any meal — plus, they’re local and seasonal.

They are best dug and used as needed and if bought at a farmer’s market, they will hold in the fridge for a few days.

Jerusalem artichokes contain vitamins A, C and B-complex and are a good source of potassium, phosphorous, iron, calcium, and magnesium. Unlike most root vegetables, they contain no starch.

They are also very rich in inulin, a carbohydrate linked with good intestinal health due to its bacteria promoting properties.

Depending on your constitution, this could be one health benefit that comes at a price. Some people have a slight intolerance to inulin and it may begin to ferment in their gut, which gives us a hint as to why these tubers are sometimes dubbed ‘fartichokes’.

My advice is to introduce them gradually into your diet and refrain from eating huge amounts at any one sitting, unless in the company of very good friends.

These tenacious tubers are so easy to grow that once you plant them, you will have them forever. They are virtually pest resistant and tolerate most soil and weather conditions.

They are not such a wise choice for a small plot as their stem and foliage will grow up to 10 feet and run the risk of shading and competing with other crops.

However, this trait can have its advantage as if strategically planted they can make an excellent wind break (no pun intended!). Be warned, once you plant them, they are practically impossible to remove.

They take the words ‘volunteer’ and ‘rogue’ to a whole new level. They demand to be dug up with care, as even a tiny piece of tuber will grow again if left in the soil.

Anything a potato can do, a Jerusalem can do too. With one exception, Jerusalem artichokes can be eaten raw or very lightly stir-fried. Roasted, sautéed, baked, boiled, fried, steamed, made into gratins, gnocchi or soup, added to pickles, salads, fritters or rostis, Jerusalem Artichokes have a delectable, distinctive, earthy and unusual creamy taste and texture.

Like spuds, they can be served with or without the skin — but it’s best to leave it on for maximum nutritional benefit. Cleaning these gnarled tubers can require a certain degree of scrubbing and patience.

They are esteemed by many seasonal food fanatics. Jamie Oliver heralds them to be best friends with sage, thyme, butter, bacon, bay, cream, breadcrumbs, cheese and anything smoked. They are superb on their own as a vegetable side dish and go well with both meat and fish.

Jerusalem archichoke are also used to feed pigs, who work so hard to get the tubers, they break up weedy, dirty or heavy ground while they’re at work.

The pigs will thrive on the food and while they truffle, they fertilise at the same time leaving clean, open soil behind them.

So Jerusalem artichokes, noxious weed, animal fodder or delicious seasonal vegetable? Why not cook up a few tubers and make your own decision.


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