Jerusalem artichokes are a vegetable that few people seem to know, and fewer grow. Once tasted – everyone wants more! Now is the time to harvest, or buy them in your veg. shop or supermarket. Today I want to encourage you to try this lovely veg. now and grow it next year.

Jerusalem artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes are best grown at home for freshness in cooking in many different ways. Thanks to Robin Flickr for this image, which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Jerusalem artichokes – not an artichoke

They look nothing like globe artichokes sold fresh in summer and in jars all through the year.

They are tubers, similar in size to ‘baby’ potatoes and similar in shape to ‘ratte’ potatoes (long, thin and nobbly).

Their taste is something like the base of a globe artichoke, if they are eaten almost immediately after they have been dug (and that is important in ensuring the best flavour).

Jerusalem artichokes – nothing to do with Jerusalem

Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book tells the tale of how these tubers were discovered in North America (1605), grown abundantly in France and, when two of these ‘girasol artichokes’ were imported to England (1617) their name quickly changed to ‘Jerusalem artichokes’.

The good, the bad and the ugly of Jerusalem artichokes

    • The flavour is nutty, strong and couldn’t be anything else.
    • This is a versatile vegetable: great on its own or mixed with other flavours.
    • Some people find that however they are cooked they cause wind: the trick is to grow your own and cook them the moment after you dig them up.
    • The nobbly tubers are fiddly: choose the smoothest varieties.
    • Plants grow to 3m (10ft) and create an impressive screen.
    • They can be invasive: make sure you dig up all the tubers and don't let them travel around your plot.

      Jerusalem artichokes

      A bonus of lovely yellow flowers make this veg a must have for containers and borders. This image by Paul Fenwick is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Grow your own

Plant tubers of a smooth skinned variety such as ‘Fuseau’ in March or April, about 10-15cm (4-6in) deep about 30cm (12 in) apart.  Plant in a sunny spot, at the back of a border or bed or in a large container. The tubers like good and well drained soil and only need to be watered in droughts.  Their young shoots are loved by slugs and snails, so beware!

When the stems are about 30cm (12 inches) tall, use a trowel to pull the surrounding soil up and around them to about half their height as this will stabilise the plants as they rocket to 3m (10 feet) tall.

In autumn, when the leaves yellow, cut them down to 8cm (3inches). Leaving them like this protects the tubers from frost so you can leave them in the ground until the day (or moment) that you want to eat them: cooking and eating them very fresh reduces their windy effects.  Dig the tubers up with a garden fork – as you would potatoes.

Cook your own

Scrub or peel the tubers, and remove stringy roots and the dark tips. The cleaned tubers discolour quickly so pop them into water with lemon juice or vinegar while you prepare others.

There are many versions of Jerusalem artichoke soup to choose from. This simple, creamy version might be a good one to start with.

Roasting brings out the best of the flavour. Add garlic and thyme to make them special, as in this recipe, or roast as you would potatoes. They cook more quickly than potatoes, and too long in the oven and with too much oil they can become soggy (but lovely!).

If you like the flavour of shop bought Jerusaelm artichokes, grow your own next year: freshly dug, the flavour is better and as they grow the flowers are lovely. What's not to like?