Friday, 9 March 2012

Fartichokes



Friday 9th March 2012
Too far South for the Aurora Borealis overnight,
but still a pretty moody morning sky.
Magic Tubers
Back last April I planted half a dozen knobbly tubers and the magic was released. A veritable forest of leafy, architectural greenery sprung up, reaching 6 foot by summer, when I chopped it back, only for it to branch out, reach further for the skies and produce a display of sunshine yellow flowers. It provided a windbreak for the other vegetables and was a favourite haunt of robins and wrens.
Jerusalem artichokes are a member of the sunflower family and nothing to do with Globe Artichokes. They would certainly be worth growing just for their decorative qualities, but then there's a bumper harvest too. Literally pounds of tubers from each plant, and each capable of growing into a new plant for next year. We'll have them growing everywhere! They do say not to let the plants flower, as this takes energy from the tubers and reduces the yield. I'd hate to see how much you'd get if you didn't let them flower.

 













So, I hear you ask, why aren't we all growing and eating them?
Well, unfortunately they don't store too well, so will never become a supermarket favourite. Having said that, in your own garden they can just be left in the ground until needed.
Secondly, the tubers can be very knobbly and difficult to peel. Go for the variety 'Fuseau' though and they are much smoother.
Finally, Jerusalem artichokes contain a different type of carbohydrate known as inulin, rather than starch. This can be difficult for the digestive system and can lead to excessive flatulence. It's worth giving Jerusalem artichokes a try at the weekend, when you're not in company the next day! But in our experience there were no such effects after the first meal.

As for how to eat Jerusalem artichokes. They are deliciously crunchy and nutty when sliced and eaten raw, like having an endless supply of water chestnuts. Cooking them has required a little experimentation, as they can go mushy. For this reason, they are best roasted or steamed, mashed with other root veg or used to make soups.

All this from just one plant.

One final drawback is that there's just so much to eat! I harvested one plant yesterday, along with the remainder of my leeks and celeriac. There was plenty for us and for the pigs. I then spent a whole evening processing these into various mashes and soups: Three root mash; Jerusalem artichoke and leek soup; Bacon, leek and potato soup; Celeriac and apple soup. I also sauteed some tubers in rosemary and white wine to go with some of our own shoulder of pork and spicy haricot beans.
I guess that making soups like this is a modern way of preserving to cope with the glut. It means we have a constant supply of very healthy, frozen ready meals.

Next week, I need to harvest the last three plants! I'll use some fresh, try a couple more recipes, and feed the rest to the pigs. The smoothest tubers will be put aside to be planted for next year's harvest. I'll grow a lot more, intentionally to provide a food crop for the pigs. I may even grow some just outside their electric fence, then let them in late in the year to harvest it themselves. They'll really enjoy the digging.

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