Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Houston, We Have Lift Off

A couple years ago my parents gave me a brown paper bag filled with some funky-looking tubers. "Plant these someplace where it doesn't matter if they take over," my mother said. "You'll never get rid of them." She left me holding the bag and walked into the house. I looked inside. Coolsunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes or Helianthus tuberosus. Sunflowers are one of my favorite flowers, so a perennial bunch of sunchokes seemed like happiness in a bag. And if I could eat part of them, bonus! I planted. Years passed. I never harvested a single tuber.

Until this past Sunday.

After spending a little too long in the garden with Graham (planting around 425 million garlic cloves), I walked past the drooping sunchoke stalks and decided it was finally time to harvest (my timing had everything to do with the fact that I had a garden fork in hand). I unearthed over 10 pounds of golf-ball-sized tubers. Of course, now that I had them, I had no idea what to do with them. The last time I had eaten a sunchoke, I was a kid. My grandmother had sliced them into a salad and I remember liking them. I turned to my shelf of gardening books for help, because I also needed to know how to store such a bountiful harvest. Whoops. It turns out it wasn't necessary (or smart) to harvest them all at once. They don't stay firm for very long once they're dug up. Every single book mentioned this. After I stopped cursing, I turned to the Google for help. I started typing, and, by George, the Google held many answers.

I discovered that the bumpy little balls are chock-full of goodness. There was loads of information out there about how they are the perfect substitute for potatoes. Words such as inulin, prebotic, and vitamins kept popping up. After losing myself in several blogs that practically held these guys up as a food of the gods, I decided that sunchokes were going to save my family from the flu, improve our cholesterol counts, lower our blood glucose levels, make me thin, and straighten my hair after just a few carefully prepared meals. I would slice them into salads, roast, mash, and even whisk them into soups. My eyes were spinning and my fingers twitching. I was ready to tackle the tubers. Although I had to go about it quickly—before they spoiled—I also had to be careful: I didn't want to scare off the family. I would start slowly, get everyone hooked, and reel their taste buds in with delicious, nutritious dish after dish.

Sunday night. I scrubbed and thinly sliced two small sunchokes and placed them on a plate for everyone to try. Mmm, was the response from the family. Sort of like jicama but nuttier and crunchier. "Can I take some for lunch?" asked Katharine. This was good.

Feeling charged (no doubt a side-effect of the mighty chokes), I did the Google again looking for recipes. Move slowly, I reminded myself: The goal was to work up to a creamy, health-packed soup. As I searched around, I noticed the occasional mention of how a very small percentage of the population may experience a slight gastric reaction to sunchokes—those inulins, again. One guy even referred to them as fartichokes. I cast these concerns aside; my family was made of tough stuff.

Monday night. I decided we would have burgers (thank you, Ferdinand, our friends' bull), a salad made from the lettuce that had re-seeded itself all over our garden, and roasted sunchokes. Graham, the prince of roast potatoes, instructed me on the proper roasting technique. After scrubbing away all the soil, I tossed the chokes in a little olive oil and popped them in the oven. About 40 minutes later they were done.

They did look like roast potatoes, but they smelled different. Katharine gave them a side-long glance. Uh-oh. Graham poked them with a fork. It wasn't looking good. They were mushy. I took the first bite.

"Mmm, interesting. I think they need more salt."

o, that wasn't it. Maybe a little of Andrew's homemade ketchup. "Oh, that's the ticket," I shared with the family. "Mash them up like potatoes and add ketchup."

The kids looked at me strangely: "Mom is adding ketchup to roasted vegetables," I could hear them think, "they must be awful." OK, so they really weren't very good, but I ate them anyway because they are so good for you. Andrew had two servings. Graham quietly pushed the chokes to the side of his plate, while Katharine said she preferred them raw.

The kids went to bed. I noticed that Katharine was unbuttoning her jeans and rubbing her belly as she climbed the stairs. Not long after their departure, my stomach started rumbling. I, too, found myself unbuttoning my jeans. I changed into my elastic-waisted PJs in an effort to accommodate my now bloated belly. This is what Sigourney Weaver must have felt like in Alien, I thought. I was certain some gnarly headed sunchoke-like creature was going to pop its head out of my belly button. I felt awful. Andrew laughed. I checked the kids. Fast asleep. Maybe it was just me. Figures.

Tuesday morning. Let's just say today is payback for Andrew laughing at me last night. Sure, my stomach is still rumbling a little, but for Andrew, well... Houston, we have lift off!

Thank goodness I didn't feed any to the dog.

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