Jerusalem Artichoke, Common ($1.50 per medium tuber)
Jerusalem Artichoke, aka sunchokes, topinambours, and a few other names. This is the common, knobby, large-tuber variety. This is in many ways the perfect food plant. Native to much of North America, perennial (difficult to eradicate, in fact: plant in its own area, it will spread and can get weedy), no-maintenance, and even ornamental, with yellow flowers in late summer. Tall (up to 10 feet, but usually closer to 6), it produces large, nutritious tubers. We sell them for $4 a pound locally or $1.50 per medium transplant tuber on this site. One pound will turn into at least 10 pounds after a year under the right conditions. Although other varieties are easier to peel, this one is so abundant that it makes up for this issue. Available October-November, and again in April.
Cultivation: About the easiest garden plant imaginable. It was widely used as a survival plant in much of Europe for that reason. No known pests (except perhaps for rodents who occasionally rob the tubers, and a few grubs), drought hardy (within reason), prolific, happy in just about any soil type (but does better and is easier to harvest in a rich, sandy loam). Stems and leaves can even be used as forage for animals. It is also a great poultry food. Our chickens love the cooked peels. Groundhogs and rabbits are particularly fond of it!
Food preparation: Countless ways to prepare, especially if you look for French recipes (under the name topinambours). We find it best slowly braised in a Dutch oven, and it works in stews and mashes, mixed with other root vegetables. It tastes great in a hearty lamb stew for instance, where the sometimes dominant artichoke aroma gets blended nicely with the meaty flavour.
Ethnobotany: Widely used by North American natives peoples, it is still abundant in the wild. The wild form typically has smaller tubers, but some can get quite large. It has a long history in Europe where it was introduced in the 1600s. It has both a somewhat lowly reputation as starvation food, because of its common use during the postwar years, and as a delicacy, often found on the menu of fine restaurants.