Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Helianthus, native flower & gourmet food

Yesterday I attended our monthly meeting and lecture at the Ottawa Horticultural Society featuring a fascinating speaker, Lorraine Johnson. Her topic: "Native Plants: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly." Lorraine is a famous book author in Canada, some of her gardening books include:

Tending The Earth A Gardener's Manifesto
100 easy-to-grow native plants for Canadian gardens
Grow Wild! : Native Plant Gardening in Canada
Grow Wild!: Low-Maintenance,
Sure-Success, Distinctive Gardening With…
Ontario Naturalized Garden: The Complete Guide to Using Native Plants
The New Ontario Naturalized Garden
Garden Plants and Flowers

Her lecture in a nutshell:
- naturalized garden will be less work, in the long term, than a conventional garden of exotic species (she spends about an hour per month "gardening");
- Native plants have evolved over thousands of years and have adapted to certain soil types, rainfall patterns, general climate, etc. Of course, your garden needs to match those conditions. A native woodland plant in a full-sun garden will probably die, however, if you provide the plant with the conditions in which it grows in the wild, it will most likely thrive;
- Native plants flourish in the wild, without any human cultivation whatsoever. - You don't need to do much supplementary watering in a native plant garden, certainly not as much as is required by exotic plantings or thirsty lawns;
- You don't need to use any synthetic pesticides- Its contribution to biodiversity;
- The environmental benefit has to do with wildlife- If you appreciate a more formal style, you can use native plants in a formal planting;
- If, on the other hand, you favour a more informal style, you can achieve that look as well;

But my eye-opener came when she introduced some native garden plants and talked about Helianthus.
Just last year I worked very hard for weeks, trying to dig them out of my garden - I hope not successfully - as I learned that they have edible tubers and you should plant them in big pots or built a 1-2 feet deep sort of wall around the plants to avoid spreading. I searched the Internet for more information.

See what I found:
Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem Artichoke) is quite showy in bloom during late summer and early fall and is a type of sunflower that is grown for its edible tuberous roots as well as its pretty yellow flowers. This is a large, gangly, multi-branched perennial with rough, sandpapery leaves and stems, and numerous yellow flower heads. It can get 10 ft (3 m) tall and its branches can spread to nearly as much. They sometimes break under their own weight, and often fall over (plant them next to a fence or a patio railing or to cover an unsightly shed or your compost). It is also called the sunroot or sunchoke or earth apple or topinambur, a species of sunflower native to the eastern United States, from Maine west to North Dakota, and south to northern Florida and Texas and Canada.
The early settlers in North America, as well as the Indians, appreciated it as a readily available source of food, and their gardens became an important factor in the spread of the plant. There is a record of Champlain sending some of the tubers to his native France after tasting them a second time in Canada. It's very likely he sent them home from Massachusetts, too, because a book called Histoire de la Nouvelle France, published in 1609, makes mention of this vegetable before Champlain's exploration in Canada. Most farmers in Ontario presently consider Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus, to be a nuisance even though it is sold as a specialty vegetable. The popularity of the plant as a food source for both humans and animals has fluctuated throughout the years.
Gourmet Food
There are also tons of recipes in the Internet for Jerusalem Artichoke (strange name, as it is not from Jerusalem and not an artichoke).
An Italien Gourmet cook wrote in her blog:
Preparation 1: I brought a handful home from the market, washed and roasted them (skin and all) in the oven with a simple drizzle of olive oil, sea salt and pepper. I cooked them all the way through as I would a baked potato. Ridiculously good. Smooth, creamy texture with a rich, nutty flavor. I was not surprised to learn this vegetable is a member of the sunflower family.
Preparation 2: I tried roasting them a second time replacing the olive oil with hazelnut oil for even tastier results.
Preparation 3: I'm in love. I cut some into thin rounds, fried them, and sprinkled them over an arugula salad. Delicious.
Preparation 4: I peeled and cut some into a small dice and tossed them in a salad with roasted beets and melted Brie cheese. A perfect fit.
Preparation 5: I thought I had reached perfection already, but then I tasted this soup

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
Makes 6-8 bowls of soup
1½ pounds Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed clean and dried
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and sliced
1 medium-size turnip, peeled and sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed lightly with the side of a knife
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Small bunch fresh thyme tied with string
4-5 cups water (or vegetable stock)
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 450 F.
Place half of the Jerusalem artichokes on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the tray in the center of the oven and cook until they are completely yielding when pierced with the tip of a knife. Meanwhile, slice the rest of the Jerusalem artichokes in ½-inch thick slices. Heat a medium pot and add the remaining olive oil. Add the onion, turnip slices, and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the thyme and the Jerusalem artichokes slices and stir to blend the ingredients. Check the seasoning. Cook for 5-10 minutes and add 4 cups of the water. Cook until the Jerusalem artichokes are completely tender, 25-30 minutes. If the liquid reduces too much during this cooking time, add the remaining cup of water. Remove the roasted ones from the oven, quarter them and add them directly to the soup mixture. Taste for seasoning. Remove the thyme from the pot. Add the cream. Purée the soup in small batches in the blender until smooth.

Not only a 100-Mile-Diet - but indeed a 10-feet-Diet, if you plant them near your kitchen door.