Rhizome Roulette: Are sunchokes worth the gamble?

How can something so potentially evil look so innocent?

A couple of weeks ago, I pulled up my sunchoke plant and was greeted with a lovely harvest of the knobby root vegetables. Even though I had been looking forward to that moment all summer, suddenly I felt bewildered. What should I do with them? I haven’t cooked sunchokes in years. So I turned to Google.

Which dropped me down a rabbit hole I had not at all expected — an online journey featuring flatulence and intestinal distress. What I discovered was something I had thankfully been totally unaware of all my sunchoke-eating life. Apparently about 50 percent of people have painful digestive issues fueled by sunchokes — to the point that some of the comments on the recipes I was researching made me cringe. Commenters on some sites cried out that every recipe should come with a written warning that these unassuming tubers could wreck severe havoc on unsuspecting eaters. I was floored.

Some people were so intense that even though I was 99 percent confident in my ability to enjoy sunchokes with no ill effects, I actually became a bit anxious. What if all the times I had eaten them were flukes? What if this time I was part of the wrong half of the population? How would I survive an 8-hour day in a small office with that type of reaction? Finally I set my nerves aside, picked up my knife and got cooking.

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Tales from the Garden: Fresh Tomato Sauce

Considering that over the course of the summer I’ve mentioned my inaptitude in gardening (well, at least gardening for edible things, I can grow some pretty flowers!), I think you can guess that these tomatoes did not come my garden. This, again, is why it’s good to have friends who seem to have a natural green thumb.

So thanks to my friend DB, I spent last weekend surrounded by the final remains of Portland’s Indian summer as we cooked up a batch of fresh tomato sauce.

Look at these beauties!

Once we had picked all the ripe fruit, we debated for a while about whether to take the skins off. We had enough tomatoes that the task did seem daunting. Finally I managed to convince DB it would be worth it in the end — swearing (with little confidence) that it wouldn’t take forever.

Surprisingly I was right — I love it when that happens! A quick “X” at the bottom of each tomato, plus a dunking in boiling water, and the skins slid right off. Within 45 minutes or so, we had every last one peeled and ready to go. We decided not to seed them because they were almost all flesh, perfect for stewing.

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Tales from the Garden: Sunchoke Harvest

I have never been successful in growing things that I can actually eat. My rather large strawberry patch produced one puny berry this year and in consecutive years, my husband and I killed three rosemary bushes. But my luck has changed!

This spring, a friend gave me a sunchoke plant. I was apprehensive but optimistic.
I love sunchokes and was very excited at the prospect of being able to grow my own. The best thing about these plants is that they are regenerative. Just leave some in the dirt and the next spring, another plant will grow.

At any rate — my plant took off and grew like crazy, towering over our 8-foot tall fence. I was so proud!

Once the sunflower-like flowers died, it was time to pull the plant up and see what it produced. Here’s what I found nestled in the ground:

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Tales from the Garden: The Seed Pod

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I had no idea that irises had seed pods, but they do! Mine had two this year. They start as green bulbs, but once they dry out, they turn brown. Then they split and the seeds fall out. Every year, my garden teaches me something new!

Tales from the Garden: The Stowaway

A very cheerful marigold

My grandmother is a dedicated gardener. Even though she is in her 90s, she still takes great care of her rose garden and also grows flowers from seed every spring in her greenhouse.

Since I have finally proved that I can keep plants alive, I have been allowed to take home some of her starters. This spring she gave me tiny marigolds that have since grown to a surprising degree. Even though she said they were “tall” ones, I had no idea they got that big — they are past waist-high right now.

But while I was carefully watching their progress, I noticed there was one plant that looked different from all the rest. I was sure it wasn’t a weed as I could remember my grandmother saying she had planted a variety of seeds, but I wasn’t sure what exactly it was.

Until it bloomed:

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Backyard Bliss: Losing my black thumb!

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Calla Lily in bloom

My husband and I were not blessed with green thumbs. We’ve managed to kill no less than three rosemary plants, a fact that used to make plant nursery workers flinch when we’d try to explain just how bad we were at gardening. But here we are — years later — with plants that are not just still alive (!) but actually flourishing.

It’s a beautiful thing!