Gigantic, pretty and quite controversial

No wonder the storm knocked over one of my Jerusalem artichoke plants – they are more than 9 feet (3 meters) high. The plant was beyond rescue so I pulled it but I staked and tied the others because it is too early to harvest Jerusalem artichokes. The tubers should be dug after frost, which makes them sweeter, but before the ground freezes.

Because the plants are so tall I did not realize they are covered with yellow flowers at the top that look like small sunflowers; in fact, Jerusalem artichokes are a member of the sunflower family. So I got some benefit out of the lost plant after all: a big beautiful bouquet for the dining table.

Jerusalem artichokes are one of the most controversial vegetables. Some people love them and are ready to pay a hefty price. I have seen organic Jerusalem artichokes for more than $5 per pound. Others plainly and simply hate them, mainly because they can cause intestinal gas. The most outspoken condemnation is from an early 17th-century popular botany book, Gerard’s Herbal, where Jerusalem artichokes are called “more fit for swine than men.” If harvested after frost, the inulin (the dietary fiber that is the culprit for causing gas), is significantly reduced. Also, cooking Jerusalem artichokes at high heat, like in my Jerusalem artichoke salad, and not eating them raw makes them easier to digest.

The gardening tips for growing Jerusalem artichokes are just as divided. Some sources warn you that they will take over your garden and you will deeply regret plating them. Others tell you to remove the flower buds so the tubers grow bigger. Go figure.

I am taking the middle route, trying to thoroughly dig out all the tubers so they won’t spread into unwanted areas. And, I leave the flowers on. They are pretty and I would not haul a ladder into the herb garden to reach them anyway. And, if the Jerusalem artichokes ever take over I shall maybe consider getting a pig. Pigs love Jerusalem artichokes and can locate the tubers in the soil. Just like truffles! With the exception that the pigs dig the tubers up and eat them, which takes care of the tubers spreading.

On a second thought I am not sure a pig would be such a good idea, it will likely dig up the rest of the herb garden, too…

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Jerusalem artichokes, a Trojan horse?

It might be that next summer, after Jerusalem artichokes have taken over the herb garden, I will curse the moment I planted them, disregarding all warnings against this supposedly highly invasive crop. For now, I am quite happy with my very first harvest of those crunchy little tubers. Boldly I am thinking that if I can can keep various mint plants under control, why shouldn’t I be able to do the same with Jerusalem artichokes? We’ll see next summer if they are manageable, and not a Trojan horse.

Jerusalem artichokes, aka sunchokes, are a native American crop. If that’s half a good enough reason to plant them, their wonderful taste and texture make up the other half.

I love artichokes, yet my two attempts to grow real artichokes in the garden, in the rainy summer two years ago, and again this summer, failed miserably. Jerusalem artichokes taste like artichoke hearts, but without the hassle of removing the leaves to get to the meaty portion.

The plants usually grow about six feet tall. Because of abundant rain, mine were so high that I needed a ladder to spot the small, sunflower-like heads. The tubers should be dug after the first frost, which came in the form of a major snowstorm in late October. Lacking a cool basement or a root cellar, I store the Jerusalem artichokes on the basement steps leading to an outdoor Bilco door. That’s fine for now but in sub-zero weather I will need to find another place, as the tubers should be stored close to 32 degrees F. To keep the moisture at the required 95 percent I spray the sunchokes with water every now and then. Properly stored they should keep through the winter.

After much scrubbing, the tubers are spick and span and don’t need to be peeled. But for this salad, I wanted uniform pieces so I trimmed and peeled them. The peeled Jerusalem artichokes must be immersed in acidulated water (lemon juice or vinegar) immediately to prevent them from browning.

Salad of Jerusalem Artichokes, Apples and Walnuts

1/4 cup walnuts

12 ounces Jerusalem artichokes (about 8 ounces peeled)

White winegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large crisp tart apple (I used Honeycrisp)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 stalk celery

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or walnut oil

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Salt

Freshly milled black pepper

1. Lightly toast the walnuts in a pan without oil. Remove them from the pan and set aside to cool.

2, Thinly peel the Jerusalem artichokes with a vegetable peeler. If they are very gnarly, trim them a bit to make peeling easier. Halve or quarter depending on size. Drop them immediately into a bowl with water and a few tablespoons of white vinegar.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pan. Drain and dry the Jerusalem artichokes with paper towels and fry them in the hot olive oil for about 5 minutes, just long enough to brown them a bit from all sides. turning them often. Remove with a slotted spoon and set them apart on a plate lined with a paper towel. It is important to give them space when they cool, otherwise they will turn soggy.

4. Peel and quarter the apple, remove the core, and dice. Put them in an salad bowl and mix with the lemon juice immediately. Slice the celery and add.

5. Whisk the extra-virgin olive oil with the apple cider vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Coarsely chop the walnuts and add them to the bowl with the cooled Jerusalem artichokes. Toss and serve, or refrigerate.

Makes 2 generous servings