Jerusalem Artichoke: A Forager’s Failure

I’ve been looking for a source for Jerusalem Artichokes for some time.  They grow profusely (to the point that they aren’t recommended in small gardens, where they take over), respond to harvesting with exuberant regrowth, and they serve as a starch, which sounded good to a forager growing sick of steamed greens.  This summer, I thought I had hit the jackpot.  In a scrubby little strip of woods near my house, the path through the middle is lined with plants that bear a convincing similarity to the Jerusalem Artichokes in my field guides–yellow, sunflowerish blooms, hairy, spear-shaped leaves, and thick, tall growth.

Exercising a gardener’s patience, I waited months until our first hard frost, which withers the topgrowth and sweetens the roots.  Using a trowel (I thought hauling a shovel in would look a little suspicious), I traced one of the now-brown stalks down to the earth and dug in, expecting to pull up a thin, sweet-potato sized tuber.  At the end of my stalk, there was a woody root about the size of a golf pencil.

I can’t say if I completely botched the ID, or if this just isn’t a very productive variety.  I’ll be looking through a few wildflower books to see if I can find anything else that fits this description.  I was able to salve my disappointment with some home-grown turnips and butternut squash, with grilled pork loin.  I’ll be thawing some of the wild applesauce to mix in with the leftover squash tomorrow.  After spending the afternoon tossing a compost pile (it was well over my head before I rearranged it), cleaning up some perrenial beds and the herb garden, and stealing bagged leaves from my neighbor’s curbs, I’m ready for winter.

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