04/15/11 5:55PM By Charlie Nardozzi  Download MP3
Here's a riddle for you. What vegetable has two words to its name, but neither of them accurately describe it? It's the Jerusalem artichoke. This vegetable has nothing to do with Jerusalem and isn't an artichoke. So why the name? Jerusalem artichokes are native American plants related to sunflowers. Brought back to Europe by Samuel De Champlain, he thought the roots tasted like artichokes. That part of the name stuck. Eventually they made their way to Italy. In Italian the word for sunflower is "girasole". Somehow that name was translated into Jerusalem and hence the common name, Jerusalem artichoke.
Today they're more fittingly called, sun chokes, and are worth a try in your garden. The knobby roots are harvested like potatoes. They have a sweet, nutty flavor and a crunch similar to water chestnuts. While the temptation is to boil and mash them like potatoes, don't. Stir fry or bake these roots for the best flavor or thinly shred them for eating raw in salads.
Sun chokes love full sun and well drained, loamy soil. Plant tubers like you would potatoes, spaced 18- to 24-inches apart. 'Fuseau' and 'Stampede' are two good varieties to try. The stalks can grow up to 10-feet tall producing an attractive, small sunflower by summer. After a frost, chop down the flower stalks, dig and harvest the tubers. Be sure you get all them, because any left behind will sprout the following spring and can become weeds. For that reason I like to plant them in a wood-lined raised bed so it's clear where to find the tubers.
For this week's tip, prune back any cracked and snow damaged limbs on your shrubs to the trunk or a main branch. Consider even removing non-damaged limbs to balance out the structure. You may lose some flowers, but you'll have a healthier shrub. Next week on the Vermont Garden Journal, I'll be talking about planting bare root trees and shrubs. For now, I'll be seeing you in the garden!