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Jerusalem Artichoke, Red Fuseau, Helianthus Tuberosus

Jerusalem Artichoke, Red Fuseau, Helianthus Tuberosus

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Jerusalem Artichoke, aka sunchokes, topinambours, and a few other names. This is the red fuseau variety.  This is the only one that appears naturally here in Southeastern Ontario, and likely in the rest of Eastern North America.  The other ones were likely derived from this one, mostly in Europe.  It seems to be especially hardy and fast-spreading, with beautiful purplish red, long, carrot-like tubers.   Jerusalem artichokes, regardless of variety, are in many ways the perfect food plant. Native to much or 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  beautiful yellow flowers in late summer. Tall (up to 10 feet, but usually closer to 6), it produces large, nutritious tubers.   One tuner will turn into 10 the following year.  Available October-December, and again in April.

Cultivation: About the easiest garden plant imaginable. It was widely used by native people, and as a survival plant in much of Europe for that reason. No known pests (except perhaps for rodents who occasionally rob the tubers), 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 use as forage for animals. Groundhogs and rabbits are particularly fond of it!

Food preparation: Countless recipes, especially if you look for French recipes (under the name topinambours). We find it best in stews and mashes, mixed with other root vegetables. It works great in a hearty stew for instance, where the sometimes dominant artichoke aroma gets blended nicely with the other flavors.  But it’s really at its best sauteed with some garlic and oil or butter.

Ethnobotany: Widely used by North American native peoples, it is still abundant in the wild. The wild form typically has slightly smaller tubers, but some can get quite large, and the size difference in the case of the red fuseau, is compensated by its ease of peeling and cutting.   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.

 

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