What does this title mean?! Well… i’m on about vegetables called Artichokes. In the vegetable world there are three kinds i’m aware of so far, all rather distinctly unrelated to each other!
Globe Artichokes (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) – cultivated from a type of thistle with the core of the young flower buds eaten, steamed or picked. These are what you’d probably think of when you first hear Artichoke, buying them ready-pickled in jars from the supermarket.
Jerusalem Artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) are closely related to sunflowers and produce a large mass of reasonably knobbly tubers at its base come the cooler seasons. Clean with a brush and cook with skin on. Delicious roasted, baked or steamed with a nice subtle flavour and buttery texture. The plant is very easy growing and even gives you a spread of miniature sunflower-type flowers before it dies back. I love the plant and am I’m a big fan of the tubers but I have had reports of some people experiencing gastro-intestinal discomfort, from mild gas to wild and stormy intestinal disturbance. I’d suggest that if it’s your first time eating Jerusalem Artichoke try not to eat an excessive amount of it at once and see how you go! 😉
Chinese Artichokes (Stachys affinis) are closely related to Lamb’s Ears (good Permaculture toilet-paper) and in the mint family. Another name which I might try to use for these are ‘Crosnes’ as there seem to be a number of recipes using that name. Recently, I came across these at random in a catalogue and decided to give them a try last season. Recently had my first big harvest which prompted this article.
The plant can be treated as a mint in that it likes a moist positions ends shallow runners out rapidly to fill the space it’s grown in. This spreading is a good thing though because Where Runners Go – Crosnes Grow. It also seemed to grow quite happily around and beneath numerous other plants in the bed. Harvest when the plant plant dies back in winter and you’ll find these amazing pearly white smooth grub-like tubers in the first 10cm of soil.
They can be eaten fresh in salads or cooked in stir-fry’s for a crisp and refreshing texture that remains after cooking. Mildly flavoured but I think totally delicious! In fact I’m so thoroughly overjoyed with Crosnes that i’ve been spruking them all over the place!
The main reason that we don’t see Chinese Artichokes or Crosnes in the supermarket (at least in Australia) I suppose could be due to the fact that they rapidly dry out in the open air. They can be effectively stored in a container of moist coconut peat or sand. The same goes for storing Jerusalem Artichokes.