The topinambour; sunchoke; Jerusalem artichoke; any other names I am missing?!
For years these Plants have been shooting up great green sprouts and soon enough October rolls around and they finally begin to flower. Topinambours are a staple to the NorthEastern NorthAmerican diet (or so they should be!) as they are perennial plants that deliver like annuals.
Oddly enough, harvesting is not my forte and so the 3 patches of topinambours that we have around #agronomadesgarden2016 have remained untouched for the past 3 growing seasons…. Today I broke the curse of harvesting after Toussaint for these delicious tubers and not a single malediction in the world could have stopped me.
Lately we have been transplanting as many of the fruit trees still left in pots over the summer to get them in the ground before winter. Many landscaping professionals will try to say that it is too late to be planting rooted shrubs and that it does not give enough time for the roots to establish before winter. To that I say :: HIT IT! Our growing season is short enough, so long as the ground is not yet frozen, you’re good to go. Trees are ridiculously resilient and literally anything is better than having a tree’s roots freeze solid in a pot above ground.
Late Autumn is the perfect time to be tweaking garden design and plant placement. The panic and great heat of summer is over, there are no biting insects, and the majority of perennials and annuals are long gone, which gives a much needed perspective for planning the 5-15 year projects.
This is where topinambours come in. They are best harvested after the first few frosts (or snowfalls) have past to optimize sweetness.
You tell they are good to go when the leaves are pretty much finished but the stem in still bright green. Grab a pitchfork (not a shovel) to harvest the tubers to minimize breaking and damage. Digging from below, lift the entire root system up and pick off the biggest tubers for eating.
To re-plant the patch, simply throw the smaller tubers (less than 3cm) back into the soil or into a separate bowl to plant elsewhere. The crowns of the still-living stems are also re-plantable and I encourage to transplant into areas of the garden that require a “living screen”.
The plant is not only edible, but provides a unique permaculture feature that unifies many fencing strategies. The stems of the flowers reach heights taller than most sunflowers and are virtually impenetrable during high season especially companion planted with raspberries, blackberries, and roses. Caveat :: be aware that if you do companion plant with thorned plants, harvest may be difficult or at least inconvenient.
Today I harvested about 9lbs of sunchoke tubers and that was more than enough work than I was originally willing to commit to the job. As a survival food, I am so pleased to cultivate plants that continuously provide for me even though they endure a very real neglect during the growing season. Not a drop of water, no mulch, not even a conversation is needed to get these babies up and running on your Laurentian homestead.
To prep the ‘chokes, wash & scrub the tubers of any dirt or mud, trimming off what is soft or discoloured. If any topinambours are harmed during processing, I simply toss them back into the planting bowl and they live to see another year.
While the topinambour is often eaten like a potato, they are treated quite differently.
- They don’t need to be peeled – at all!
- Great with butter.
- They are not very good keepers – up to a week in the fridge max. If anyone has a bonafide root cellar – please leave a comment below to share how long sunchokes may last underground (always unscrubbed, dirt intact)
- They don’t even freeze well. Too much moisture content? Turns into a weird watery mush – to be avoided if possible.
- Another difference between the ‘choke and the ‘tater is … topinambours can be eaten raw without any of the ??? factor.
The best way to preserve topinambour throughout the winter months is by either dehydrating them or by fermenting them (quel surprise!). Usually my process leaves me with lots of material for both.
Once washed & ready, I pass the tubers through my cuisinart using the slicing attachment. Transferring the sliced sunchokes to a bowl, I pick through the most intact slices and lay them on the dehydrator trays & dry them at 135F for a couple of hours. From here, the dried slices are pulverized to a ground powder for use in soups, smoothies, and anywhere a starchy protein in needed. Stores very well fully dehydrated and stored in a cool, dry, place.
For Many people the unfermented sunchoke is too taxing on the digestive system (If you haven’t had a case of the sunchoke farts then you’re not really wildcrafting) and is 100% avoidable in the case for fermentation.
Sunchokes are an amazing food : they are high in dietary fiber, calories, antioxidants, and vitamins A, C, and E. One surprise to be avoided is possible is it’s fairly high content of inulin, a polysaccharide which is not easily digestible (hence the farting and abdominal cramps). Fermentation takes care of that by inherently pre-digesting these inert carbohydrates, maximizing your topinambour pleasure.
Today’s fermentation station:
himalayan pink salt
Shred & squeeze the hell out of the cabbage and sunchokes, sprinkling salt to extract as much liquid as possible. Next combine the cumin & turmeric in a mush bowl and sprinkle over the top of the grated vegetables. Squeeze & mix some more.
Once fully blended, pack 2 1-L mason jars with the vegetable, making sure to remove any air bubbles. Fill to 3/4 the way to the top, and add in miso slurry until 3/4″ remains as airspace.
Wait at least 2 weeks for the bacteria figure this one out, digesting as much saccharides as possibly without compromising the mineral content of the mix.
Between the powder and sauerkraut style salads, these are the best and most integral methods of keeping topinambours relevant throughout the winter.
So come back in 2 weeks when I open our jar of turmeric sunchokes, and until then – keep living your paradise!