Saturday, April 14, 2012

Famine Food

For the past several weeks, Deus Ex Machina and I have been going out foraging each Saturday while the girls are in dance class. We've been watching, in particular, the Japanese knotweed and the stinging nettles, because we know those are early spring foods.

Today, we were rewarded for our diligence with a wonderful harvest of both.

And for dinner ...

We smoked one of the chickens we raised last summer on the grill, which we served with steamed Japanese knotweed and stinging nettles and Jerusalem artichoke (sunchoke) sauteed in garlic and butter. I want to find a different way to prepare the knotweed, but the nettle/artichoke ... OH.MY.GOD! So, yum!

It's definitely a repeat, which is good, because today, Deus Ex Machina harvested 20+ pounds of Jerusalem artichoke from the small patch we had growing (about six square feet). We're drying most of it for flour, but I think I'd like to try fried sunchoke chips.

If you're looking for a perennial food plant that is prolific, easy to grow, tasty, and healthful, I can't recommend more highly the lowly sunchoke.

In fact, when I was researching the sunchoke, I learned some very interesting things about it. First is that it is indigenous to North America, especially the northeast region, and it was introduced to the settlers by the natives here and taken back to Europe. Initially, it enjoyed some notariety as an "exotic food", but when the Europeans started growing it and noted how easily it grew in their similar-to-New-England climate, it became a favorite food item, especially among the less wealthy members of society.

In short, the sunchoke became associated with peasant food, and lost any appeal it might have had.

For a small garden, though, it's a wonderful perennial crop. It overwinters in the ground, which means that one doesn't need to have any storage facility for it. So, those without cold storage might take note. As long as the ground can be dug, the sunchoke can be harvested, but primarily, it's a spring vegetable, and it's full of wonderful nutrients and flavor.

It has a very low glycemic level, which makes it perfect for those suffering from diabetes, or for those who are trying to reduce their carbohydrate intake. It can be eaten raw, or cooked, or made into a flour.

After Deus Ex Machina dug out the bed, we were sure to reseed it. And then, we decided to plant a few of the root pieces in other parts of the yard, and we've saved a few root pieces for some guerrilla planting.

I can't think of any thing more fun that seeing all of the pretty "sun(choke)flowers all over town ... and knowing that if food really does become scarce, I've helped to provide some famine food for myself and my neighbors.


  1. This may sound odd, but your post was exactly what I needed today. The thought of you and your husband doing such wonderful things together brought a tear to my eye. I can't even tell you why! I guess it just seems so idyllic! Thanks for telling us your story!

  2. I have never had a sunchoke before, but it sounds like something I should try and plant. When should I plant this? Now? And when can I expect to dig it up? Also, how does it work as a flour?

  3. @ Heather - You should plant it in the spring. During the summer, the plants will be a sunflower like plant that can grow as tall as 20' high (we had a few that were taller than our house). The best harvest is in the spring, when they've been dormant all winter.

    The flour is used much like other non-gluten flours. It's best as pasta, but I've read that people add it 4:1 with wheat flour (2 cups wheat flour for every 1/2 cupe sunchoke flour). We'll use it as either a thickener, in batter for coating vegetables or chicken to be fried, or in pasta. I'll be doing more updates on our sunchoke meals after we've processed them into flour.