Gardening Articles: Health :: Cooking

Jerusalem Artichokes (page 3 of 3)

by Lucy Beckstead

Harvest

The first hard frost fells the plants, but I've found it best to let the tubers cure a bit in the ground. I cut off the dead stalks about six inches above the soil so the plot doesn't look too messy, then wait two weeks to dig. Uncured sunroots have a raw "green" taste. During the curing process, however, the carbohydrate insulin begins to break down into sugars, resulting in the sweet, nutty flavor that is so enjoyable. The intestinal discomfort or upset the tubers have been known to cause in some individuals may be related to eating tubers that are not fully cured.

Where frost seldom occurs (zones 8 through 11), the plants can be forced into dormancy by cutting the stalks down in the late fall. I gave some tubers to my sister who lives in Phoenix, Arizona, where summer temperatures can hit 120&deg F, and they grew and produced normally. She confesses that she didn't follow any particular schedule, but when the plants started looking "discouraged" she cut them off, waited a few weeks and then dug the tubers. After a rest, the plants grew up again, as vigorous as ever.

After harvest, clean and dry the tubers, then store them in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Left out at room temperature, they lose moisture quickly and become limp. They cannot be re-crisped by soaking in water.

In areas with moderate snowfall, the easiest storage, however, is right in the ground where they grew. I usually dig enough roots for a few weeks' use, then cover the bed with pine needles, leaves or straw -- six inches is adequate for our winter lows of 0&deg to -15&deg F. I lay old window screens on the mulch to hold it in place, then just lift them to uncover part of the bed and dig whenever I need more.

To prepare sunroot tubers, peel, scrape or scrub them with a stiff brush. If they are to be baked, leave the skins on. They tend to discolor quickly, so if you aren't planning to use them within an hour, give them a quick dip in water acidified with lemon or vinegar. Don't cook sunroots in a cast-iron skillet or pot -- the chemical reaction causes the tubers to turn black.

Easy-to-Clean New Varieties

Many seed companies offer just one sunroot, identified only as "Jerusalem Artichoke." Judging from the illustrations, they are either French Mammoth White or Stampede, the two most common varieties. Now there are newer varieties that are narrower and smoother, making them much easier to clean and slice. Some are colorful, too. Most sunroots require a growing season of about 125 days.

'Dwarf Sunray'. A shorter variety that flowers freely, so is quite attractive in the flower border.

'French Mammoth White'. Knobby and whitish; round to oblong in shape.

'Fuseau'. Smooth, long and shaped like a yam. An early variety.

'Golden Nugget'. Smaller than Fuseau, with golden skin.

'Long Red'. Like Fuseau but with striking maroon-red skin.

'Smooth Garnet'. With deep red skin and a blocky shape.

'Stampede'. An 90-day variety that bears large knobby, roundish, white tubers.

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