I have heard that Jerusalem artichokes make a good alternative to spuds, what are they and how can I grow them. Thanks E.M. by E-mail
There isn’t much to touch the humble spud. You can tire easily from eating pasta or rice everyday, but there’s nothing like a big bowl of mash to fill you up. Jerusalem artichokes would make a pleasant change to the usual fare but they do have a distinct flavour and not everyone likes the taste. Those that do will relish the soup that it makes. The plant comes from the North American plains and is related to the sunflower. Like the globe artichoke it is a member of the daisy family. It was introduced here from France in about 1617, so it has a long history of cultivation. It is very easy to grow but you need a large garden to accommodate them as they can reach up to and beyond two metres. It would make a great screen in the garden even if you didn’t eat it. In warm climates it will produce sunflower heads but here the season isn’t long enough. If you know anyone who has the crop then you could get some tubers from them to make a start. If not, garden centres usually stock them. As a guide, plant the tubers in March, 40cm away from each other in rows that are 75 cm apart. This way they will stand a chance of holding each other up. The plants need to grow until the leaves turn brown in autumn. Either harvest all of the tubers and pick some small ones to plant next year of do as the French do and leave the ones that stay on the stems in the ground to grow on for next year.
Wash and scrub the tubers in water. If they are smooth, cut away the roots and tips. When peeled put them in water. Knobbly artichokes are best boiled in their skins for about ten minutes until half cooked. Then run them under the cold tap and peel the skins off.