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 . . .