An update to Paydirt: Sunchokes.

Yet another step made to prepare our backyard for our move from Aberdeen, Maryland to Fairbanks, Alaska.  This past weekend our goal was to dig up as many Jerusalem Sunchokes as possible and since the weather was dry and sunny we figured it was time. 

First a bit of history, after all, you know if you've kept up with me in the past I love reading the histories of each plant we grow.
The plant commonly called a "sunchoke" is actually called a Jerusalem Artichoke. No, it is not from Jerusalem and no, it is not to be confused with a typical artichoke.  Supposedly Italian Settlers in North America named the sunchoke girasole which is the Italian word for Sunflower.  It is believed that English settlers corrupted the name girasole artichoke to Jerusalem Artichoke.  It is indigenous to North America and was cultivated for its valuable roots.  It is a perennial (meaning it grows back on its own every year) and is actually part of the sunflower genus; Helianthus.
Growing it, I can say it looks very much LIKE a sunflower which appeals to me personally as I love plants that look nice but are useful.  A whole "more than meets the eye"sort of bit. Most visitors who came to my backyard, even if they were possibly people with gardening experience would have NO CLUE that beneath the soil, treasure awaits.
Nutritionally, these are not too bad either as they have 650 mg potassium per one cup serving and are also high in iron, and contain 10-12% of the US RDA of fiber, niacin, thiamine, phosphorus and copper.  One item to take note of, Sunchokes are very high in the carbohydrate Inulin.  This can cause in some issues with gas and bloating.  Luckily for the three of us, we were gas and bloating free after eating some of our harvest for dinner. 
Ease of growth?  Okay, well from everything I've read, you leave even just a bit of root or tuber in the ground and the very next year you will have more plants pop up which equals about one word. Invasive.  Now that could be a good thing.  After all, if you have a part of your yard you don't really care about that gets plenty of sun, well you could always plant a few tubers in the spring, dig up the buried treasure come Autumn but leave some roots and tubers behind and your garden already has a head start.
These also grow supposedly in very poor soil, with just less produced in lower quality soil. 
Now as for this, I can say, our backyard soil is much better than what we had when we first moved in however what we lack is sunlight.  As you can tell in the photo to the left, the sunchokes here are in the shade. The plants we grew received during the height of summer about 4 hours of sun a day. Not much. 
Still all told, our amount harvested was astounding because since that area does not get much sun we typically don't expect much from it. My husband,  Edward had already stored half of the Sunchokes so I couldn't weigh the entire amount from the backyard but what I did get to measure came up to 8.78 pounds.  If I were to guesstimate the total amount from the back yard I would say we harvested almost 20 pounds of Jerusalem Artichokes.  That is a LOT of tubers!  And that is only from the backyard where the soil quality is better. 
This past spring we decided to plant a few in the front yard, just to see how well this plant held up to the very poor soil quality present here.  This is what we got.
Not much.  Almost a pound total.  These unlike the ones grown in the backyard are much more condensed and sweeter where the ones grown in the backyard were bigger and more nutty in flavor.  
So all told? About 21 or so pounds of Sunchoke tubers harvested.  Now the trick with sunchokes for long term food storage? You can't store these like you commonly do with potatoes. Sunchokes rapidly degrade in quality even in the fridge due to their thin skins. The best way to store these first is to just leave them in the soil until you are ready to eat them.  That is great but that doesn't work for us.  Remember, we're about to move!  
So next best way to store these for longer term food storage (at least that I've read, remember this is the first year I'm actually storing this things!) is to take a bucket, fill it with some soil, then place some of the sunchokes in the bucket, top with more soil, more sunchokes in a "lasagna" sort of manner. Finish with a layer of soil and then just put a top on the bucket.  I'll be able to give more feedback on this later on come January or February and hopefully, a few of these will survive long enough to go into our next garden in Alaska.   

Onto the next interesting bit.  Cooking with these.  I have found the few times I have cooked this so far the best way is to simply chop a clove or two of garlic, saute in some olive oil, add sliced sunchokes (I usually go about 1/4 inch thick slices) saute until the garlic is slightly browned.  Then put into oven that has been preheated to 350 degrees. Bake them until slightly soft.  You can also serve these raw but I am not overly thrilled with the taste when they are raw.  Maybe in a salad they would please my palate a bit more.  I still have to try that.  I have all winter after all to experiment with these. 



About two months ago, after the move in to our new house was complete, we were becoming more organized in our house and getting more settled, we suddenly realized.  These containers of dirt and sunchokes have been sitting outside our house, in -30 and -40 temperatures.  Right away I wondered "will they be any good?  They are not supposed to be frozen but I don't know what will happen.  What if they are like winter squash and turn to mush once frozen?  That's a lot of work to lose, a lot of sunchokes that we could eat through the winter.  Well lo and behold, sunchokes do NOT like being frozen at all.  Instead of mush they turn more into jelly.  When warmed up they become a liquefied, stinking mess.  So it seems first we will not have any sunchokes to eat nor to plant this year.  Instead we have compost.  Sad.  I was looking forward to seeing how these sunchokes grew here. As it almost always goes in the garden and in life.  You win some, you lose some. 

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