October 7, 2010

Sunchoke Harvest

When Will, Briton and I (Evie wasn't born yet so sadly she missed it) lived in Dublin, we were devotees of the local farmer's market that was held every Saturday morning in the play yard of one of the local elementary schools. And I say play yard because it was just a yard, no play equipment. I guess Dublin children don't need play equipment at school. They're tough. Or maybe just more imaginative.

Anyway, back to the farmer's market.

This market was wonderful. WONDERFUL. To the extent that farmer's markets here in the US, nice as they are, just can't quite compare and tend to be a let down. To be fair, this market was more like the street markets that are in Paris than a normal farmer's market. You could just about buy everything you needed food-wise for the week there. And we often did. Fresh meat and fish, cured sausages, pesto, mustards, muesli, dried fruit, cheeses that would make a gourmet shop here weep with joy, hot samosas, cold bottles of cider and vegetables...oh the vegetables. Specked eggs sat out in a shallow box nestled in newspaper and you had to know to bring your own carton to carry them home. Truffles, the first I'd ever seen in person, were kept safe in a rice filled container (we splurged and bought a teeny one for risotto..ummmm) and a whole table was filled only with a zillion varieties of potatoes, tiny ones, huge ones, blue ones, faintly pink ones.

Not everything was familiar. I had no idea, for example, what to do with celeriac, wasn't quite sure what a quince was and was a little baffled by those bumpy, ginger looking things called Jerusalem artichokes. But the stall owner, a sweet older man who knew his customers by name and could tell you just the thing to do with that particular variety of potato, was patient and filled me in as I bought something new on each visit. The celeriac wasn't bad, although Will wasn't a big fan, the quince were pretty darn yummy, but kind of a pain to deal with, but the Jerusalem artichokes, now those were a hit.

We ate them quite a bit over the almost two years we were there. Mashed, roasted, pan fried, in soup. They appeared almost as often as potatoes on our table I think, which, given that this was Ireland, is saying something. But in the years since we've been back, I haven't really had much chance to indulge in eating them since I almost never find any here. So when I was puttering through seed catalogs during the snowy evenings last winter and came across some tubers, I had to try growing some.

When they arrived I read a little more about their growing habits and decided that their height (8-10 feet) would be a little cumbersome in the veg patch, and as they are part of the sunflower family (news to me, but OK. Although that explains their other name - sunchoke) I planted them with the flowers.

All summer they grew, and grew and grew. And drove Will nuts because they kept falling over onto our gardenia (which I think they killed, but we're hoping for a comeback). I would tie them up to the fence and they would get bigger, and heavier, and the string would break, and down they'd go again.

Today Evie and I were sprucing up the yard for this weekends home tour when I decided I'd had it with propping the stupid things up. I knew they weren't done growing but oh, well, I'd just go without Jerusalem artichokes this year, and cross them off for next too. Because really, they did fall over all the time, and ten feet of plant splayed across the flowers isn't very pretty. So up they came, and with them, about ten POUNDS of tubers. Holy cow! After forking out all the tuber from the first two plants I pulled, I decided to leave the third (I mean, wow, 10 pounds out of two plants is a lot!) for later.

Evie and I bagged them up. Then she tried to haul the bag behind me as I went to the compost heap which caused the bag to break, so then they got loaded into the doll stroller until the doll needed it when they went back into a pile on the ground and finally back into a bag that I promptly put on the counter in the kitchen, just in case she got any more ideas.

I scrubbed and sliced up a few to saute for my lunch and they were divine, just as I remembered. Nutty and rich and somewhere between a potato and an artichoke, which I know sounds strange but there you go, it's the best I can do to describe them. If you get a chance this fall, pick up a few pounds and give them a go. I know they look weird and knobbly but you don't need to peel them, just give them a good scrub and your ready to get cooking. And if anyone out there is already a fan, got any recipes? That is one big bag in my fridge, I'm open to suggestions...