I’ve just finished harvesting the first bunch of Jerusalem artichoke tubers from where they have taken over one end of my garden. There are many more to come, but I’ll wait a couple of weeks until it’s colder and I’ve figured out what to do with this batch. I’ll leave some in the ground on purpose (some always stay no matter how hard I try to get them all) so that early next spring I’ll be able to again harvest the nicely preserved tubers.
The j arties, as I refer to them, grew in a pile of unspread compost, and as happens when they are well-fed and happy, the plants grew to be 6 to 8 feet tall! They are quite an aggressive plant, able to grow many feet under the snow between fall and the next spring. They have several tubers per plant, not as many as you might like at first, so you understand why they are not cheap, but after a while, you find you have far more than you expected and begin to wonder what you will do with them all, especially as friends to whom you offer them look at them and say, “What are those? What do I do with them?”
You may be wondering just what the heck are Jerusalem artichokes. It took me a long time to finally find the tuber-bearing perennial sunflower that I had read about. Then I discovered it growing in my yard, the gift of a passing bird!
What are Jerusalem artichokes?
Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is a perennial sunflower (meaning it comes back year after year) that is probably originally native to the midwestern part of North America, and is found throughout the East and Midwest of this continent. It can grow anywhere from 3 feet to 8 feet or so. A stand of them can be an impressive sight! They have pretty, daisy-like yellow flowers, which don’t look like the garden sunflower blooms we would expect, and bloom late in the season, usually not until September.
The edible part is the tuber, which is the food storage portion of the plant, allowing it to winter over with nice nutrient reserves for the spring. Tubers can vary in size and shape, from round to knobby to long and slim. They also vary in color, sometimes depending on the variety, and sometimes they just vary. Colors range from beige to reddish to purplish on the outside, but all are creamy-white inside, as far as I know. The color doesn’t affect the taste.
Jerusalem artichokes are also known as sunchokes, and are available at some upscale markets and farmer’s markets. Sometimes you can find a stand growing wild, and harvest some for yourself.
When and how to harvest
The best time to harvest Jerusalem artichokes is mid-to-late fall, when the tubers have had a chance to develop to a good size (anywhere from 1 inch to 5 to 6 inches or so). After that you can harvest them as long as you can dig in the ground. In the spring, you can harvest them as well, but at some point they will become soft and spongy, with a sponginess in the center of the tuber, and that is the signal that they are done for the season. Later on if you dig around the j arties, you may find empty balloon-like sacs, which are the spent tubers.
The best way to harvest the tubers is to use a garden fork. I have tried a trowel (okay, so I’m too lazy to get a shovel) and a shovel, and neither of them really gets at the tubers that are randomly located under the surface of the soil, sometimes down 6 inches or more. With a garden fork you can automatically sift through the dirt and find those solid tubers (along with the requisite New England rocks).
After harvesting, you may want to soak the tubers for a little while to loosen the dirt, before scrubbing with a vegetable brush to get off the surface dirt and any dirt embedded in crevices.
Storing and preserving Jerusalem artichokes
Store in the refrigerator or on the counter for a few days to a couple of weeks. My experience is that the tubers start to dry up and get soft fairly quickly, so you want to use them up within a short period of time.
If you want to preserve your j artie harvest, dehydration is the way to go, in my opinion. Slice the tubers very thinly, about 1/8” thick and place in a dehydrator or low oven (150 degrees F. with the door left slightly open) until they are leathery or crispy. You can store the slices in a paper bag or glass jar until you’re ready to use them.
To use your dehydrated j arties, you can presoak them and add to soups, stews, and stir-fries, or whatever else you come up with. You can also grind them in a coffee grinder to make a flour that you can add to other flour for baking.
You can also dice or slice them, boil for a few minutes, and then put them in the freezer until you need them.
Cooking Jerusalem artichokes
Jerusalem artichokes contain inulin, a soluble starch that doesn’t affect the blood sugar system, so they can be eaten by diabetics. However, some people have problems digesting inulin, and therefore the tubers should be cooked before eating.
You can cook fresh Jerusalem artichokes alone, boiled or baked, and serve them with butter and salt. They are very mild-flavored, which can be a boon or disappointing, depending on your taste. They are great mixed in with potatoes and other root veggies, either as a mash or a diced bake. They go well in soups, stews, and stir-fries as well.
Here is a recipe for a delicious way to eat the fresh tubers. (I found the directions for this on-line, but I don’t remember where.)
Coconutty Jerusalem Artichoke Chips
Coconut oil, preferably organic
Jerusalem artichoke tubers, cleaned and thinly sliced
Heat several tablespoons of the coconut oil in a pan.
Add a single layer of the thinly sliced (about 1/8”) Jerusalem artichoke tubers. Let cook for a few minutes on one side, then use a fork to turn them over.
When they are slightly browned and looking a bit crispy (though they don’t have to be), take them out and place on paper towels to absorb the extra oil.
Immediately sprinkle with sea salt, and eat while still warm. They are delicious and hard to stop eating. Enjoy!
How do you like to eat your J arties? What have you done with them? Let me know in the comments section.