I have enjoyed two great successes in reverse foraging this past year.
If you haven’t heard of reverse foraging before, the idea is simple: rather than hunting around in the wild for food, you deliberately introduce the edibles into your local landscape so you know exactly where they are!
In as much as the reverse foraging focuses on perennials native to the region (sorry, autumn olive!), this practice also overlaps with permaculture, which makes it even cooler in my book.
Last week I covered one of my two successes – the elderberries, which provided me with so much fruit I still have several pounds stashed in my freezer. I’m toying with freeze drying them for even longer term storage, and next year I’ll experiment with using flowers as well, knowing that I’ll still have plenty of fruit to harvest.
This week, I’m talking sunchokes. Also known as Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus), but that’s such a misnomer – being neither artichokes, nor from Jerusalem – I prefer to call them sunchokes.
Sunchokes are a wonderful addition to edible landscaping, provided you have a way to keep them corralled; they can be very invasive and prone to spread. They are also extremely productive. The two pounds that I planted last spring have multiplied many times over, resulting in an embarrassment of food.
And I do mean embarrassment. The high inulin content in the tubers can cause flatulence if your intestines aren’t used to it. I have read that harvesting them later in the winter can help because some of the inulin converts to other sugars in the cold; and that cooking them a long time also helps it break down. I am here to tell you that neither trick made much difference for us. To such an extent, I immediately consider suspect any blog post or online recipe for sunchokes which doesn’t include a warning as a courtesy to its readers.
You have been warned.
(Every time we entertain company, we joke about serving a side dish of sunchokes … but we’re not that cruel, I promise!)
One of the best parts about sunchokes is how easy they are to store through the winter. You literally just leave them in the ground. Occasionally the ground will thaw enough to dig some up. I lost a few of the tubers which were closer to the surface, and rotted with exposure. And then I lost a few more when a squirrel moved into my yard and helped himself to my bounty. But I still have so many more pounds of food than I am likely to eat!
I usually slow-roast the sunchokes, but this time I opted for soup. I checked the recipe in Forest, Harvest, Feast (I’m not sure why she doesn’t have a whole section on sunchokes, honestly) but I wanted something simpler, something focused on the flavors of the sunchokes themselves. You guys, it was so ridiculously rich and creamy, even though there was no cream at all. Here is the recipe I used (and the original, which I adapted slightly):
2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb sunchokes, peeled and cubed
2 cups stock (use vegetable stock for vegetarian / vegan option)
1 Tbs nutritional yeast
salt and pepper to taste
Sauté onions in oil until translucent, then add celery and garlic. Continue to cook until the celery is soft, about five minutes. Add sunchokes and stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup. Add nutritional yeast and salt and pepper to taste.
I topped mine with cajun-spiced pumpkin seeds, and the result was SO delicious. The recipe makes enough for two people to enjoy as a main course.
What is your favorite recipe for sunchokes? Or what other winter-time forage and harvest are you enjoying this fine February?