These peculiarly crunchy tubers are neither from Jerusalem nor any relation to artichokes. They are, in fact, sunflowers, and if you don?t stand watch and tear the plants up from your garden regularly you will find that you are swamped with Helianthus tuberosus. Sadly this will not mean that you have a bumper crop, either ? if the plants grow too close together, they do not form decent tubers and the flowers, though pretty, are unremarkable as far as sunflowers go.
There are various theories concerning the history of the name, which is made perhaps more confusing in its origins by the recipe for Palastine soup (see right). It is easy to imagine the bastardisation of the Italian name that the tuber was given ? Girasolo articiocco, girasolo meaning ?turning to the sun?. Incidentally, there is plenty of false etymology surrounding artichoke, which comes through Spain from the Arabic, Al-Kharshuf, but supposed derivations include ?choke? and ?heart?, understandably, as the artichoke has both, and in French artichaut has been connected with chaud, meaning hot, or chou, meaning cabbage. Another theory of the origin of the Jerusalem part to the name comes from the bastardisation of Terneuzen, a Dutch port through which they were transported.
The sunchoke, as it is also known, is native to North America and grows from Arkansas to as far north as the lake regions of Canada. It was discovered in 1603 by the Frenchman Samuel de Champlain in Cape Cod, where it was grown by Native Americans as a vegetable. De Champlain decided that ?sun roots?, as they were called by the locals, tasted like globe artichoke hearts.
The vegetables, being easy to grow, spread throughout Europe quickly and, by 1617, John Goodyer, a botanist from Hampshire, had received a couple of roots from Mr Franqueville, a French merchant in London. Three years later, these few roots had enabled him to supply all Hampshire with sunchokes, though he despised them himself: Which way so ever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented. By 1620, the ?Artichoke of Jerusalem? appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary, showing how quickly the tuber from North America made its mark. The sun root became tremendously popular, giving way to potatoes only thanks to an old wives? tale. Supposedly Jerusalem artichokes caused leprosy ? according to some, the tubers resembled the fingers of those suffering from the disease.
They flitted on and off the European menu after the 17th century. Jerusalem artichokes could always be relied upon in a squeeze and so during the European famine of 1772 they found popularity again. During World War II they provided sustenance, particularly as they were easy to grow and were not rationed.
The French disdainfully feed them to their animals ? I think that a terrible waste. Boil them and fry them or serve them with butter, or roasted, or in soup, I think these ugly pink tubers are delicious. They have a marvellous crunch, not unlike water chestnuts, just not as watery, and a sweet, nutty flavour.
In 1629, John Parkinson wrote the earliest work, Paradisus,separately describing and illustrating flower and vegetable gardens and the orchard. Dedicated to Queen Henrietta Maria, the French wife of Charles I, the book describes nearly 1,000 plants, including the Jerusalem artichoke, which is described as a dainty for a queen. In his time, the tubers were often eaten sliced and stewed in butter, wine and spices. They were also baked in pies, with marrow, dates, ginger and raisins. Which does sound dainty, though I am not sure the wind is quite so queenly.
Ingredients:? 1 onion ? 2 sticks of celery ? 2 cloves garlic ? 1lb Jerusalem
artichokes ? butter ? 1l chicken stock ? ½l milk ? cream ? salt and pepper ? finely chopped chives ? chopped toasted hazelnuts or croutons
1. Finely chop the onion, celery and garlic and roughly chop the artichokes. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onions and celery. Stir and cook gently until softened.
2. Add the garlic and Jerusalem artichokes. Place the lid on the saucepan and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add the chicken stock and bring to boil. Simmer until the vegetables are cooked and liquidise. Put back on the heat and add milk. Season to taste.
4. Garnish the soup with a bit of cream, chives and the hazelnuts or croutons.
Roasted Jerusalem artichokes
Ingredients: ? olive oil ? garlic, finely chopped ? Jerusalem artichokes ? rough sea salt ? pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Put some olive oil in a roasting dish. Scrub and roughly chop the artichokes.
2. Put the artichokes and garlic in the roasting dish and season. Roast for 25 minutes or until golden brown.