There are not too many places in this great country of ours where one can look up into clear blue skies, absorb the soulfully warming rays of the scintillating orange sun…
and feel absolutely frozen to the bone!
In addition to its short seasons, dry air and innately dense, clay soils, our town is also renowned for its brilliantly crisp, sunny winter days: conditions perfect for the growth and nurture of one of my fast-growing, favourite food plants, Jerusalem Artichokes (or Sunchokes…for the non-antipodean audience).
Typically, the amorphous Jerusalem Artichoke tubers – North American natives to the daisy (Asteraceae) family – are planted in spring. After sowing, they rapidly forge their way through most soil types, including rich clay, to produce a monstrous bush (up to 3 m tall) with vivid yellow flowers that stay in bloom throughout most of autumn. If harvested in a sustainable, take-as-you-need fashion, the bountiful supply of creamy, brown tubers can be used in an array of winter-warming food dishes from the end of the autumn flowering period, right through to the beginning of spring.
I first stumbled across this curious looking comestible whilst living in the UK when, in an act of spicy confusion, I mistook the knobbled, farm-box delivered vegetable for ginger and threw it into that evenings’ curry pot. Let’s just say, it was a rather starchy experience!! Despite its notorious reputation for being a territorial and noxious weed in the garden and for having a rather “bubbly” after affect in the gastronomical department, Helianthus Tuberosus has many redeeming qualities. Last year, after making what at first seemed like a rookie error – I dumped some tubers, lifted from my old rental house, into the middle of my prime, solanum-family growing patch – I soon came to appreciate the positive externalities of this much maligned, not-so-quiet achiever:
Earthy parasol: owing to its naturally flamboyant nature, the giant-esque fronds provide plenty of afternoon shade to those more sensitive, summer plants such as lettuce, cucumbers and even eggplants.
Bountiful biomass: at the end of the season, when the stems need to be cut down and the green matter has died back, the withered brown cellulose rich leaves add plenty of carbon to those hungry, in-ground worm towers or compost heaps.
STEM play: whilst a little tough for the traditional anaerobic compost heap, the thick, hollow stems make a great open-ended play toy for up-and-coming, creative scientists: bridges; swords; scaffolding for wig-wams; and jousting sticks, being the pick of the bunch for my energetic billy lids.
Gutsy go-getter: if only one reason can be stomached for including this micro-nutrient rich vegetable on ones planting favourites list, then the potential health benefits to the gastrointestinal tract should be it. If consumed in small doses (such as atop that homemade, Sunday night pizza, or in that wholesome, school-lunch tart) then the disreputable “fartichoke” side effects are somewhat reduced and those more intimate inhabitants of the large intestine are free to enjoy their salubrious, prebiotic fiber (inulin) feast.
Still not convinced of this plants’ sun-loving superpowers?
I shall leave you then, with a quote from a blazing, North American political star, Helen Keller:
“Keep your face to the sun and you will never see the shadows”
In such uncertain times, we can all do with a little ray of sunchoked light flowering down on us. Keep smiling!!