Growing and Using Artichokes

There are three different types of artichokes, each one with distinctly different properties and qualities, and, although they all bear the same name, they do not belong to the same plant family. Confused? You won’t be for long.

Chinese artichoke

The most unusual of the three types of artichokes and probably less familiar to most of us. Stachys affinis, to give it its proper name, is a member of the Lamiaceae family, which also includes mint, thyme and basil. A low‐growing deciduous bush, its small spirally tubers are attractive eaten whole and raw in salad. They have a crunchy texture and a nutty flavour.

Native to China and Japan, Chinese artichokes are said to be good for the respiratory and lymphatic systems.

Tubers should be planted out in autumn through to April for harvesting the following October onwards. Plant about 1˝ deep on their sides and about 15˝ apart. Any left in the ground will grow again but be aware that, like Jerusalem artichokes, they can grow like weeds and take over an area, resulting in crowded stunted artichokes.

Wash but don’t peel Chinese artichokes and steam for about 5 minutes before tossing in butter and adding herbs to taste. Alternatively use in stir fries.

Globe artichoke

As you may guess from its appearance, the globe artichoke is closely related to the thistle. Perennial plants, they are sometimes grown simply for their ornamental value, providing a focus of interest in a flower bed. Native to the Mediterranean they can grow up to 2 metres.

If you’ve ever looked at a globe artichoke in a greengrocer’s display and wondered what on earth you do with it, read on …

Young immature globes are the sweetest and most tender. Delia Smith on her website describes exactly how to prepare the artichoke prior to cooking but basically you need to remove the top few layers of tough leaves and break off the stem before steaming until tender. Then the idea is to pull off a succulent leaf, dip the base in hollandaise sauce or melted butter and nibble the soft fleshy part before discarding the inedible tougher pointy end. The central heart of the artichoke is sliced up and eaten too.

The young leaves of globe artichokes are considered a delicacy and gourmet food but, in my experience, the effort of preparing and eating is more than the pleasure to be derived. However don’t let me put you off! Try them for yourself and prove me wrong.

Globe artichokes can be grown from seed or rooted suckers, which although more expensive usually turn out to be worth the money. Seeds can be sown in March or April in good garden soil, about 0.5˝ deep and 10˝ apart. When they’ve grown and have 5 true leaves, thin out leaving at least 2′ between plants.

To encourage strong plant growth divide every other year or so and transplant. Mulch and feed with fertiliser during the spring.

Jerusalem artichoke

The Jerusalem artichoke or Helianthus tuberosus is a member of the sunflower family and nothing to do with Jerusalem or the other artichokes we’ve already mentioned. It’s a very knobbly tuber with a nutty smoky taste. Of the different types of artichokes it’s probably the most useful in the kitchen and like potatoes or other root vegetables can be boiled, steamed, roasted, sautéed, mashed or even baked and served with a dollop of butter as a light supper. Unlike potatoes they can be shredded and eaten raw in salads.

The big disadvantage of Jerusalem artichokes is their flatulence effect. So renowned are they for this that they’re often nicknamed fartichokes or hearty jokes. However, I’m assured that, once your system is attuned to them, you won’t suffer so much. It’s their probiotic qualities, the same qualities that make them good for your digestive tract, that have this effect. A recent study also suggested that Jerusalem artichokes, as well as being a good source of iron, will help ward off diabetes.

Jerusalem artichokes are easy to grow but be careful where you plant them: they can reach over 6′. In early spring plant the tubers about 6″ deep and 2′ apart. You will need to erect a support structure for the stems that are quite fragile and easily broken. When the individual plants are about 1′ high build up the earth a little around the base as you would do for potatoes.

Jerusalem artichoke plants don’t need a lot of looking after and will grow in poor soil but you’ll get a better crop if you dig in some manure before planting and then top dress again after planting.

When the leaves start to change colour in the autumn cut the plant back to about 12″ but don’t harvest the tubers all at once. They keep better in the ground; once picked they should be used within a week.

Jerusalem artichoke soup

Jerusalem artichokes make a very good soup and you’ll need 1kg of the smoothest tubers – for easier peeling ‐ for this recipe.

Peel and dice the artichokes. Wash and finely slice 2 leeks. Peel and finely slice 1 onion and peel and dice 1 large potato. Peel and chop 2 garlic cloves. Melt 50g butter in a large saucepan, add all the vegetables, cover and sweat for about 20 minutes. Add 1.5 litres vegetable stock and simmer for 30 minutes. Season well and liquidise. Return to the pan and make sure it’s piping hot before serving with a swirl of cream.

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