Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Entre Dans Ma Jardin

When we exit the house, we turn right and step off the front porch. Right again, leads up this path and into my garden.

When I first designed the garden, I wanted to put a little cafe table with a couple of chairs here, because I thought it would be a nice place to sit in the early morning, and read a book or have a cup of tea. There's an electrical outlet right there, too, which means that it would be a nice place for me to work outside on my laptop, enjoying the warm sunshine and cooling breezes.

The very tall plant next to the house is Jerusalem Artichokes, which have a very interesting history.

I first heard about Jerusalem Artichokes when I was exploring the Eat Right 4 Your Type diet. The premise of the diet is that the food we should eat is determined by our blood type. Specifically, the diet explains that some foods are food, which means they provide nutrition, some foods are medicine, which means they provide healing benefits, and some foods are poison, which means they should be avoided - at all costs! So, for instance, someone (like Deus Ex Machina) who has Type O blood would need an animal-based diet - lots of beef and large game animals. Someone (like me) who is Type A would need a diet that is higher in plant materials - not vegetarian, per se, but mostly.

It made a lot of sense, and explained why some diets work for some people, but the same diet will not only not work, but will cause other problems for different people. Like the low-carb diets are perfect for Type Os, but not necessarily so beneficial for Type As.

But not all meat is good for Type O's and not all plants are good for Type A's, and the standard white potato, which is a staple in our diet, is not good for either of us, but Jerusalem artichokes are. And wheat flour was poison to Deus Ex Machina, but Jerusalem artichoke flour - two thumbs up!

The problem was that I had no idea what a Jerusalem artichoke even was, and so I did some research, and I learned it is a tuber, like a potato, that has a tall stalk and is a member of the sunflower family. For a long time, I thought it was a plant that was indigenous to Europe and, like escargot, was one of those things that was gourmet, which is why I'd never heard of it. My (mostly poor Irish indentured servants) ancestors wouldn't have known anything about gourmet food. In fact, garlic was gourmet to me, until recently. Of course, as is often the case, I learned the opposite to be true. It was not gourmet at all, but rather it was considered "peasant food", especially during times of famine. As such, peasant immigrants, wishing to escape the oppression and toil of serfdom in Europe would never carry with them a plant that was associated with starvation, which is the reason attributed to its having fallen out of favor.

Ironically ...

Recently, I learned that Jerusalem artichoke was actually introduced to Europe ... around the 1600s, when Champlain was exploring along the area that is now the Canadian/US border. It was given to him by the Natives, and it is indigenous to North America ... to my part of North America.

Which would explain why it so very much loves growing here. It's almost as tall as my house!

We have lost the knowledge of more plants than we know. While we believe our American diet is varied, it's actually pretty narrow, consisting mostly of processed foods that are wheat-based, corn-based, soy-based and sugar.

But there's so much more out there - a lot that can be cultivated to thrive even in small spaces, but even more plants that will, if just given a chance, spread their little plant arms (or roots or seeds ... or ... you get the point) and multiply providing more food than we could ever use. The key is to open up our minds and allow ourselves to consider what Pocahontas sings in the Disney film, that the plants want to give us their gifts, we just have to learn to speak their language.

I had a dream the other day. Things had gotten truly bad, and a group of hungry, angry men stopped at my house demanding the food I had just harvested. I looked down at my meager harvest - barely enough for a few meals for my family of five, and just a taste for this horde -, and then, in my mind's eye, I traveled back into the woods and then out over the saltmarsh, and I saw all of the bounty and variety of wonderful things nature provides. I shrugged and gave the men the food. We didn't need it. It was just something easy and quick, because it was right there. When they left, my family and I took our book, The Forager's Harvest went into the woods and harvested supper, and it was delicious and more than enough.

For thousands of years humans have lived and thrived where I live right now, and their populations (while considerably smaller than we now have) were much larger than we would believe is possible for a society of, largely, hunter/gatherers.

The Earth has so much to offer. While we're all getting ready for whatever is coming - this apocalypse, this TEOTWAWKI - what we can't forget is that we are all connected, and we are all connected to the Earth. It's not a dead thing we can possess, but it is a living entity that will support us and nurture us, if we let it.


  1. What a lovely post.
    (Not to mention an inspiration to try Jerusalem artichokes and, if we like and can digest them--apparently some folks can't--plant some. Anything that loves this crazy climate so much is my friend!)

  2. You have a fantastic way with words. I am not sure why you think my writing worth reading.

  3. Thank you, Safirasilv. I, actually, didn't know that some people have trouble with Jerusalem artichoke. Pity.

    Deus Ex Machina - you know what they say "takes one to know one" ... or is it, "birds of a feather ... peas in a pod." I enjoy your writing, because it's good, and I enjoy you because ... ahem ....

  4. Have you harvested the Jerusalem artichoke yet? Please tell how to process it! Can it be dried and ground into a flour, or is that only done by commercial means? This is fascinating.

    I've always believed we're actually living in the "Garden of Eden" and that Nature would provide everything we need. Unfortunately, we've given in to temptation......

  5. Yes, we did harvest some of the Jerusalem artichoke. I cooked them into latkes. I've also had them boiled in a soup, and I've had them chopped and raw in a salad. They're very versatile ;).

    I haven't tried making them into a flour, but it is my experience that any food production done on a commercial level can be replicated at home, but the homemade stuff is usually healthier ;). I imagine that Jerusalem artichoke flour would be like making potato flour or rice flour.

    Obviously, I agree that this is the Garden of Eden we are in, and we have all we need, if we're willing to accept "enough."

  6. Great post, Wendy. I went ahead and ordered Forager's Harvest since you'd linked to it… I needed to add an item to get free shipping on something else I wanted, so I paid the equivalent of $8 for the book. ;-)

    According to a book I already have, "Edible Wild Plants: a North American Field Guide," processing a Jerusalem artichoke is pretty easy: once you've peeled or scrubbed the root tubers you can use them just like a potato in pretty much any recipe. Also, "for pickles, peel, boil 3-4 min., cover with wine vinegar, age 3-5 weeks." I need to go look for some around here.

  7. FarF - I think you'll like that book, especially if you're interested in foraging. And it sounds like you got a decent deal! I think we paid a bit more for our copy :). Hey, did you see that Thayer has another book out? Apparently, he has a huge section in his second book on processing acorns. That book is on our "to order" list ;).

    I hadn't considered Jerusalem artichoke pickles. Hmmm ... sounds interesting ;). If you're looking for them down your way, they'll probably be in full bloom right now. They have yellow flower - very similar to a tiny sun flower, and mine ... well, you can see. They're pretty tall - and they're also incredibly invasive, which is a good thing, especially since we plan to eat them ;). We want something that grows, pretty much unimpeded. If you do find a stand, you might want to just mark the spot, and then, before they start growing again NEXT spring, dig up a few roots and have them as an early spring meal.