Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pickling Sunchokes

Two years ago I planted sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes.  It is a variety of sunflower that creates edible tubers.

They are perennials that grow with a weed-ish vitality, which is something I very much treasure in a garden plant.  (As a bonus the blooms are a food source for the bees as well.)

People use them like potatoes or as something akin to water chestnuts in salads and stir fries.

Unfortunately, the tubers are best dug up in the winter, after a few hard frosts have turned some of the starches to sugars - or before the shoots come up in the spring.

That's not really the season for salads or stir fries, and if you use Jerusalem artichokes in any quantity (as you would potatoes) you learn why the plant is often derisively named the fartichoke.

Monica and I liked the taste and texture, didn't like the windiness, and didn't find much use for our sunchoke harvest last year.

However, there are rumors that pickling them neutralizes the gas-inducing properties (or maybe just moderates your intake of sunchokes to a more harmless level?).

Pickles that are both flavorful and non-mushy are a rare and hard to find treat.  (And when it comes to gardening, I have completely failed to raise cucumbers each time I've tried.)  Since sunchokes turn out to be an acceptable pickle, I will contentedly give up on trying to raise cucumbers!

Here are the results of my experiment.

Technique #1 places diced sunchokes in a crock, where you soak them in a brine with turmeric, cumin, garlic and ginger for a few days.  Then pack them into jars with garlic and chiles and leave them sit out for a week or so longer.  Once you reach the level of flavor and sourness you like, you store them in the refrigerator.

Verdict:  The texture is excellent and crunchy.  The flavor is OK, with a bit too much turmeric, but a nice closing spiciness from the chiles.  They float and turn gray unless you weight them down into the brine, which is more trouble than I'm usually willing to take.  Refrigerator storage isn't ideal.  Still, I'll experiment with this one again.

Technique #2 brines the sunchokes for 12 hours or so with some turmeric.  You rinse it off, and pack the sunchoke slices (half inch thick) into jars.  You bring a pickling juice to a boil with spices, but let it cool before pouring it into the jars.  Pour it over the chokes and can them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Verdict: Wonderfully crunchy texture, and fine vinegar pickles overall.  I'll use a bit less sugar next time and experiment with the pickling spices, but this one is definitely a success.  Better than cucumber pickles in my humble opinion.

Technicque #3 tosses the sliced sunchokes in with spices, packs them into jars and pours a boiling mixture of water, cider vinegar, honey and salt.  As the recipe recommended, I included some shiitake mushrooms in a couple of jars, and hot Thai peppers and garlic in most of them as well as a random distribution of cloves, mustard seeds and pickling spice mixture.  I canned these pint jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Verdict: The mushrooms seem to lend an intriguing earthiness to the flavor.  But I think pouring on the hot pickling juice cooks the sunchokes slightly, so they don't have that raw-carrot-crunch that the other techniques preserve.  

In any case the specific spicing isn't the real test here - since I had only a motley selection of pickling spices.  It's the crunchiness.  Spicing and sweetness can be adjusted, but whatever technique results in good, crunchy pickled sunchokes is he one I'm looking for.  And for that Technique #2 wins, with #1 a close second.

Full recipes below the fold . . .

The Winner, Technique #2,  from Hank Shaw (with adaptations in brackets)

Makes 3 quarts, and the recipe can be halved. 
Prep Time: 30 minutes, not including brining time.
Cook Time: 30 minutes, including canning time.

       2 to 3 pounds sunchokes (choose small ones if possible) [Somewhat counter-intuitively the thinner you slice them, the crunchier they stay.  I settled on about 1/3 inch slices as the best.]
       Juice of 2 to3 lemons [I didn't have lemons on hand and did without]
       4 cups water
       1/4 cup kosher or pickling salt
       2 tablespoons turmeric, or 1 large fresh turmeric root, sliced [I used regular powdered turmeric]
       4 cups cider vinegar
       1 cup white wine vinegar
       1 cup water
       1 to 2 cups sugar (depending on how sweet you want them) [I went with 1 cup of sugar and will try 3/4 cup next time as I like my pickles sourer rather than sweeter]
       2 tablespoons mustard seed
       1 teaspoon dry mustard
       1 tablespoon chile flakes or 1 dried chile per quart
       1 clove per quart
       1 bay leaf per quart

1      Cut jerusalem artichokes into 1/2 inch pieces and put any cut pieces into a bowl of water with the lemon juice in it — they will discolor otherwise. When you have them all cut, mix the 4 cups water, 1 tablespoon of the turmeric (or the sliced fresh turmeric root) and the 1/4 cup salt. This is your brine. Brine the sunchokes overnight, about 8 to 12 hours.  [Mine was in closer to 18 hours, but didn't seem to do any harm.]
2      To make the pickling liquid, mix the vinegar, sugar, 1 cup water, the rest of the turmeric (if you are not using fresh turmeric root), mustard seed, dry mustard, chiles, cloves and bay leaves (basically everything else) and bring to a boil. Stir well and let it cool to room temperature.
3      Get your hot water bath ready if you plan to can these. Skip this if you plan on keeping the pickles in the fridge.
4      Fish out a chile, clove and bay leaf from the pickling liquid and put one in each jar. [I had small Thai chiles from the garden and tossed several in each pint.]

5      Rinse the sunchokes well, then pack into jars. Cover with the cooled vinegar mixture. Make sure to leave at least 1/4 inch of headspace if you are canning. Process in a hot water bath for 10 to 15 minutes. Wait at least a week before eating.  [I went with pint jars, since it's a more manageable size and can serve as an interesting gift.]

The close second, Technique #1, from Linda Ziedrich.

Mellow Yellow Jerusalem Artichoke Pickle

3 pounds Jerusalem artichokes, thoroughly scrubbed, and cut into ½-inch dice
2 teaspoons ground dried turmeric
2 ounces garlic (about 16 cloves), chopped [Shamefully, I was out of garlic and used powdered instead, which means I have to give this recipe another chance and do it properly next time.]
2 teaspoons ground dried ginger
1 teaspoon cumin
4 teaspoons pickling salt
4 teaspoons sugar
3 cups water

Toss together the diced Jerusalem artichokes, the turmeric, the garlic, the ginger, and the cumin. Pack the mixture into a jar with a capacity of at least 6 cups. Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water. Pour the brine over the Jerusalem artichokes; it will not cover them at first. Add a brine bag (a gallon freezer-weight plastic bag containing 1 tablespoon salt dissolved in 3 cups water) or another suitable weight.  [I used my pickling crock, and I may have been light on my measuring of the sunchokes, because not only did the original brine cover them entirely, the recipe only made a little over 3 pints rather than the predicted 4.]

The next day the brine should cover the Jerusalem artichokes. If it doesn’t, add more brine mixed in the same proportions.

Wait several days before tasting the pickle. I found it perfect after a week: The brine was sour, and the Jerusalem artichokes pleasantly, mildly spicy and still crunchy.

When the pickle has fermented enough to suit your taste, store the jar in the refrigerator. Keep the Jerusalem artichokes weighted so they won’t take on a grayish cast.  [And they do take on an unappetizing grayish color, though I can't say it detracts from the actual flavor.

I will definitely be trying another version of this next spring, since I like the idea of a lacto-fermentation option.  I prefer the sliced to the diced, however, and will cut back on the turmeric somewhat.]

And the bronze medalist, Technique #3, from Leda Meredith.

Still quite tasty, with a subtle, earthy flavor, and good especially if you prefer a slightly softer texture to your pickles.

Pickled Sunchokes and Mushrooms Recipe

8 cups thoroughly cleaned, sliced sunchokes (slice them about 1/4-inch thick) 
A few mushrooms [I used some slightly petrified shiitakes from the refrigerator]
1 teaspoon pickling spices [If you like pickley-tasting pickles you might want to up the amount here; this recipe is for those who like their pickles subtle.]
2 small Thai peppers
2 cups water
4 cups apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons honey
4 teaspoons salt

Toss the sunchokes with the pickling spice. Pack into clean canning jars.  [In the interests of experimentation I included whole mushrooms in three jars; in the others none at all.]

Bring the water, vinegar, honey and salt to a boil. As soon as the mixture reaches a boil, pour it into the filled jars. The sunchokes and mushrooms should be completely covered by the brine, but there should still be 1/2-inch head space between the surface of the food and the rims of the jars.

Screw on canning lids. At this point you can opt to store the pickles in the refrigerator, where they will keep for 3 months (they are still safe to eat after this, but the quality starts to decline). For longer (up to a year) storage at room temperature, process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Yield 6 pint jars.


  1. guera_linda@msn.comMay 21, 2015 at 2:58 PM

    what an interesting idea! I would bet that the probiotics content of naturally fermented pickles does indeed mitigate the windiness....

  2. Apologies to anyone who tried to make a comment and couldn't. I think "disqus" might be having issues.