Sunchokes!

William Nile Endicott and Penny, in front of a stand of sunchokes!
William Nile Endicott and Penny, in front of a stand of sunchokes!

“Jerusalem Artichokes” Are Neither Artichokes Nor From Jerusalem

A few years ago, I couldn’t be at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving, so I gave them a package of sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes). I told them that sunchokes were an authentic food from the native peoples of Massachusetts, and would therefore have been among the foods that Massasoit’s people would have shared with the Pilgrims back in 1621. I told my parents that they could eat the sunchokes or save them for planting in the spring. If they planted them, they’d end up with great huge sunflowers whose blossoms supposedly smell like chocolate. Both of my parents are avid gardeners, so my dad planted the sunchokes, and you can see the results in the photograph.

My parents ended up with a huge harvest of sunchokes, which has gotten bigger year by year. My dad waits until after a killing frost to dig them up. That makes them sweeter.

My dad just gave me a 5-gallon bucket of sunchokes, so I’m going to be adding sunchokes to a lot of recipes over the next few weeks. They’re tasty, and they’re really good for you. One sunchoke fancier even argues that they helped him cure his type 2 diabetes (http://www.sunchoke.org/). For a British friend of mine, sunchokes are “comfort food,” because he ate them when he was a little boy during World War II.

Some people complain that sunchokes give them gas. Other people say that this isn’t a real problem if you start with only a small portion, to give your system a chance to adjust. My system is already accustomed to an extremely high-fiber diet, which is probably why I never have a problem with sunchokes, or even with beans.

Sunchokes are easy to prepare. You don’t have to remove the skin, just scrub them very well to remove any dirt and grit. Then you can slice them and serve them raw in salads or a vegetable platter. (You can dip them in vinegar or lemon juice to keep them from turning brown if you are serving them raw.) You can also roast or boil them like potatoes.

Sunchokes are easy to grow. But once you plant them, they’ll keep coming back, sort of like Jason in the Friday the 13th movies. I’ve been told that the only way to eradicate them completely from a patch of ground is to let some pigs loose there. So think carefully before you plant sunchokes!

Roasted Autumn Vegetables with Mushroom Gravy, Apple Salad, and Carrot Cake

I put this meal together because the roasted vegetables and the carrot cake are both baked at 350 degrees. I prepare the vegetables and put them in the oven, then make the carrot cake. While the carrot cake is baking, I have time to make the mushroom gravy and the salad. Then I have time to tidy up the kitchen and set a nice table.

I don’t give measurements here, because the vegetables vary in size anyway. I just keep chopping up vegetables until I have a big serving for each person. I used about half of the bulb of fennel, so I’d have some left over for salads over the following few days. I also saved all the feathery leafy bits of the fennel for use in garnishing salads.

Roasted autumn vegetables
1 bulb of fennel
Potatoes with nice skin, scrubbed
Parsnips, peeled
Several cloves of garlic, peeled
1 red onion, peeled
1 c water or vegetable stock
Rosemary
Thyme
Parsley

Cut up the vegetables into small chunks and place them in a baking dish. Mix the herbs into about half a cup of water or stock, with about a tablespoonful of balsamic vinegar. Pour over the vegetables. Put it in on the bottom rack of the oven and turn the oven on and set it to 350 degrees.

Carrot cake
After you put the vegetables in the oven, make the carrot cake. I used Mary McDougall’s recipe for raisin carrot cake (http://www.drmcdougall.com/newsletter/nov_dec6.html), except that I added a half teaspoon of cardamom and I substituted a gluten-free all-purpose flour for the whole-wheat flour. Put the cake in the oven on the middle rack. When you put the carrot cake in the oven, stir the vegetables and add the rest of the water and herbs.

Apple salad
While the vegetables and cake are baking, chop up a very sweet red apple, some celery, and some raw Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), if you have them. Toss them with a raspberry-flavored vinegar and serve on a bed of lettuce. The vinegar keeps the apples and sunchokes from turning dark before you serve them. If your apples aren’t overly sweet, you could add a little bit of the sweetener of your choice to the vinegar before mixing it with the apples.

Mushroom gravy
Stir-fry a chopped onion over medium heat in a dry pan until the onion is very brown. Then add two cloves of minced garlic and fry for another minute or so. Then add 2 cups of water and ½ chopped fresh mushrooms or a handful of dried mushrooms. Let it simmer slowly until you are about ready to serve the vegetables. Then combine ¼ cup of cornstarch with another cup of water. Mix thoroughly, then stir it into the boiling mushrooms. Keep stirring until it is thickened. You can adjust the amount of water and cornstarch until you get the desired volume and consistency. Serve the gravy over the roasted vegetables.