One to ’choke on
The sunchoke is also known as the Jerusalem artichoke, despite the fact that it is native to North America. It got its name either from Dutch farmers, who brought the plant to Europe and grew it in the town of Ter-Heusen, which sounds like Jerusalem; or because it was the staple food of North American pilgrims seeking a new Jerusalem. Regardless, this little-known tuber, which will be slowly entering our local markets by the end of the month, has all the qualities one could want from a long-standing perennial.
Amateur farmer Shanee Barner grows sunchokes in his Oak Park backyard alongside many other diverse and thriving vegetables. “I really like to grow things that you can’t just get from the grocery store,” he explains of his attraction to the ’chokes. “The [artichokes] are versatile. You can eat them raw or cook them. They keep well and they store well. You don’t have to plant what everyone else is planting.”
The consistency of Jerusalem artichokes is quite similar to a potato, but they have a sweeter, nuttier flavor. Better yet, the Jerusalem artichoke has a wide variety of uses. They’re a great source of fructose for diabetics, and they’ve also been used for ethanol fuel. Plus, because they’re actually part of the sunflower family, Jerusalem artichokes also attract monarch butterflies during migration.
But mainly, growers suggest you double-fry them just like potatoes and serve them over a fresh fruit salad. As Barner says, “Anything you can do with a potato, you can do with a Jerusalem artichoke.”