Thursday, February 27, 2014

On the Menu: Native plant Helianthus tuberosus

Stephanie Rukowicz

Helianthus tuberosus, more commonly known as Jerusalem artichoke or Sunchoke, is a native herbaceous perennial in the Asteraceae family.

 Photo credit: Clarence A. Rechenthin @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database.
Courtesy of USDA NRCS Texas State Office. United States, TX, Knox City

Photo credit: Tom Barnes, University of Kentucky, with permission.
From the soil line upwards, the plant looks similar to a traditional sunflower with 1.5”-3” yellow flower heads appearing in late August and early September, towering 6-10 feet high on thick, sturdy stems with large broad leaves. Below ground, their root system is made up of edible tubers that can be dug up once the plants die back for the winter. Harvest after the first or second frost for optimum flavor.
Harvested Sunchoke tubers scrubbed clean.

Sunchokes are rising in popularity in gourmet cuisine, and are currently found in two menu options at the plant-based restaurant Vedge, as well as in several recipes on well known websites such as Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchn. Don’t have sunchokes growing in your yard? Tubers can be found at the Italian Market. I recently saw them for sale at Giordano’s produce stand at 9th and Washington.

Recipe for Rosemary-Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes (adapted from 150 Vegan Favorites by Jay Solomon)

4 cloves chopped garlic

1 T olive oil
1 tsp dried rosemary
.75 lb Jerusalem artichokes (Sunchokes)
¼ tsp paprika
⅛ tsp ground pepper

Scrub and peel sunchokes, then cut into 1” sections. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, combine all ingredients, tossing to coat sunchokes. Spread out on small baking sheet, bake 30 minutes or until tender.

I found these to make a nice side dish. The roasted sunchokes are silkier in texture and sweeter in flavor than found in roasted potato.

A cautionary note for eating this delicacy: sunchokes contain inulin. Some people find this naturally occurring carbohydrate difficult to digest. Research has found that over time the inulin is converted to easier-to-digest fructose if the tubers are stored first (in the fridge or ground) before cooking and eating.
Interested in growing this native in your garden? Plant tubers this month, no later than March, 18” apart, 6” deep. Many plants will grow from each tuber. A cautionary note for planting this native: this plant is rather easy to grow, and practically grows itself. Once it is established, it is difficult to eradicate--although with its many uses, including colorful aesthetics, pollen for bees, seeds for birds and food for the dinner table, I’m not sure why you would want to!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Homesteading in Suburbia

Stephanie Rukowicz

While browsing the gardening section at the Central Library, I stumbled on a book titled Homestead Year: Back to the Land in Suburbia, by Judith Moffett. Published in 1995, the author writes about her year-long experiment homesteading in Rose Valley Borough, Delaware County, PA.

Like many gardeners living in an urban environment, I’ve often dreamed of life on a bigger plot and being able to live off the land. Reading about someone else’s experience attempting the dream locally makes it that much more of a real possibility--inching closer to “one day,” and further from “not going to happen.”

Moffett, at the time an assistant professor at Penn, had been putting off her experiment in hopes of finding a plot of farmland, but ultimately decides to make the best of the land she is already on in the Philadelphia suburb of Rose Valley. Taking a year sabbatical from work, Moffett grows vegetables and fruits, becomes a beekeeper, establishes a pond on her property, and purchases fish and ducklings to add to her homestead.

Although not a how-to text like others that share its library shelf, the book does contain useful information for anyone considering expanding their garden to include bees, ducks, or fish. Overall I found it an entertaining read, and a reminder of why detailed garden documentation is important.