Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Helianthus tuberosus (sunchoke, jerusalem artichoke...) is a false perennial, native to Eastern North America. It is a tuber forming member of the sunflower family. I call it a false perennial because it doesn't actually live from year to year. It is, however, quite persistent in the garden. Here's how it should work: You plant some roots from a friend that has too many (you always have too many if you have any), they spread out and establish themselves, grow big giant stalks with tiny little sunflowers on top, tubers form underground, the plants die off, you dig up the tubers.

Now, if you should happen to have planted them near anything, there comes a time that you realize they were planted in the wrong spot. So you dig them up and replant and they grow on happily. They grow in the place you moved them to and the original place you moved them from. They are kind of like horseradish in their persistence. If there is a tiny bit of root left in the ground, a whole new plant will form. 2 years later, I am still constantly weeding sunchokes out of the mint patch.

Some might view this plant with annoyance for its weed like nature. I embrace it though. I wish I didn't plant near the herbs but I embrace its persistence and its functional perennialism. If you have a good spot or even a crappy spot, they dont take much effort-sun, soil, or water. Sunchokes can fill them in with little effort, make pretty flowers late in the summer/early in the fall, and give you a root vegetable crop every year. All you have to do is dig them up once there has been a frost. They will magically grow back on their own next year. Even if you think you got every scrap, you didn't, they'll be back. On the internet, you will see this plant discussed in permaculture circles often for this reason. Truly perennial vegetables, in non tropical climates are quite rare or weird or bad tasting or involve much effort. Sunchokes are easy, pretty (sometimes at least) and tasty (also sometimes at least.)
jerusalem artichoke

Sunchokes are weird looking. They can get as big as a deformed, clenched fist. Most are way smaller and its exciting to dig up a huge jawn. Occasionally, they have knobby, branching sections like ginger; sometimes they look like turnips. They have a thin skin like a mix between yukon gold potato and ginger. They can be white or yellow or red though. Im not sure if it is species based or entirely random and wild still. I have two distinct looking varieties and I dont remember planting two different looking roots to start but I may be wrong. Some of mine are very small and round and red, like a new red potato. The others are various sizes, up to enormous and are really knobby and ginger like or turnip/ parsnip shaped with bulbous sections and long tails.

genetic diversity
purple and red radish pods
I had a similar instance with rat tail radish. They are such a novel weirdo crop that they havent been consciously bred and adapted over the years, resulting in distinct species like a tomato/ pepper/ any other even slightly common plant you might grow. Instead their genetic makeup is vast and varied and your not quite sure what you will get. I bought a pack of seeds for rat tailed radish from Baker Creek (and there are multiple varieties of seed pod radish, rat tail just being one type) and the plants looked the same in height and girth but the flowers of some plants were white and others were pale purple/pink. The purple flowers created purple pods while the white created smooth green pods. The seeds in the packet were indistinguishable from each other.

I think a similar genetic diversity remains in the sunchokes. I sorted mine between tiny red ones and big white ones and had about 6 pounds of each, which is too many. So, Im making pickles. Supposedly sunchokes are edible raw and cooked but they are not for most people. They wont kill you raw but your friends will hate you. Gerard's Herbal, printed in 1621 states that, "which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine than men." This is because they have a huge amount of inulin, a long chain polysaccharide sugar that our guts can not normally break down. The good and bad thing about that is that our body treats it as fiber, which causes less sugar in the bloodstream but more farts in your butt. In fact inulin from sunchoke and chicory are now being added to packaged foods as a prebiotic fiber. Probiotic foods, like raw fermented pickles and yogurt etc, contain beneficial bacteria for our guts; whereas prebiotics create ideal conditions in the gut for the probiotics. This makes me wonder two things: 1) If we increase our intake of beneficial bacteria, would sunchoke cause less gas? 2) If we ate sunchokes all the time would our bodies adapt to all that prebiotic fiber coming through, and cause less gas?

All of this is irrelevant, I just think farts are funny still. It is irrelevant because cooking sunchokes greatly reduces this trouble and I think Gerard is a fool and his quote of John Goodyer is hilarious. It commonly comes up if you read anything about sunchokes and I just wanted to keep it going. I have had them roasted and then pureed and they are nutty, rich and delicious. Also when  raw they are crunchy like a water chestnut and everyone knows water chestnuts are gross. Who wants farty water chestnuts? Gross! Not me.

I decided rather than just roast all of them it would be worthwhile to preserve some for the winter. I have had them pickled in a vinegar brine and they were wonderful tasting and caused no gastric distress. I have seen very little about doing raw ferments with them however. And, as earlier stated, if they contain prebiotic elements, perhaps we should include some probiotics as well? I also think, unsubstantiated by the internet, that the long cold fermentation process may help convert some of the polysaccharides into a more digestible form. Fermentation is a balancing act of time, temperature and salt. If its cold it will take longer, if it takes longer you should make it really salty to protect it from harboring troublesome bacteria, if its salty it will take even longer. Pickle catch- 22. My kitchen is only about 60 degrees in the winter so I expect it will take 2-6 weeks. Time will tell. I made two batches: a kimchi and a salt brined pickle. Here's what I did:

For the kimchi i sliced the sunchokes thinly, put them in a huge bowl and salted them.

Then in a food processor I made a paste out of onion, garlic, ginger, guajillo chili, fermented carrot pickle brine, and soy sauce.

I tossed the sliced sunchokes with the paste with a spatula because Im scared of spicy hand tiny cuts.

Then I packed a crock, stopping several times to really tamp it down with a potato masher.

Finally I scraped the bowl really good to make sure the top of the crock was covered in salty kimchi goo and no vegetables were exposed to air.

Then I also made a brined pickle. First, I sliced them up the same way as for kim chi.

Then I made a brining solution at a ratio of 4 C water: 3 Tbl sea salt.

Then I added some spices; mustard, cumin, caraway, coriander, fennel, black pepper, turmeric.

raw fermented jerusalem artichoke pickle

Pour all that into a jar, weight the top so the slices stay submerged under brine, cover and wait.

I just made all this so I dont know how it worked yet. Update coming once I eat it!


  1. thank you for your support lincoln! i need to do an update with pics of the finished jawns still...

    1. how were they? I am going to be harvesting my first batch in a few weeks and I want to keep my options open. I am sure my family would not appreciate any extra gassiness! :)