Helianthus tuberosus, the Sunchoke or more commonly called the Jerusalem artichoke takes its’ place as the first veggie out of the garden this year. It is March 15 and we have had unseasonably warm weather this year. We were cleaning up the yard this afternoon and I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be nice to get some food from the garden. Ta-Da, the ever present sunchoke. Helianthus tuberosus is a native to North America and has been grown for food for thousands of years. The sunchoke is a relative to the common sunflower, but focuses its’ reproductive energy into a tuber rather than a seed. The sunchoke is completely edible, both raw and cooked, but some people, including myself find that it can cause a little bit of gas, oh well. Personally, I am quite bored with the sunchoke for the sole fact that I don’t really like them all that much. My favorite way to serve them is pealed like a potato, sliced very thinly, and served raw with a fresh salad of dandelion greens or salad mix, chopped up bacon, hard-boiled eggs, and a garlic dressing. As far as cooking the sunchoke, I have used them in roasts like you would use carrots, onions, and potatoes, and we have also made a baked sunchoke, cheese dip (that one was pretty good). Just like any vegetable, it has its’ supporters and detractors, I ride the fence on this one, it is fun to grow and I can eat them in small quantities.
The sunchoke does possess some interesting possibilities for some experimentation. First, according to the Wikipedia page about sunchokes, the possibilities as a prolific home brewing ingredient sound very interesting. The tuber contains inulin rather than starch, so with the right yeast some very interesting libations could be created, such as the German sunchoke liquor or some kind of sunchoke ale or lager. Second, the use of sunchokes in the production of biofuels may be a possibility. They are a prolific perennial that seems to always grow well, wet or dry, warm or cold. Entering a world that will soon be energy challenged, creative groups of people may be able to make fuel from the sunchoke. Third, and maybe the most obvious, is a reliable, if not completely appetizing source of food. It is there right away in the spring, and again in the fall. A fourth possibility for the sunchoke is use as an animal fodder. Anyone raising chickens or pigs might be able to supplement the animal feed with a free perennial food source and turn it into meat and eggs. These are just some of my thoughts on the Sunchoke. Feel free to contribute recipes using this unique tuber, and happy gardening, Cheers!