‘Uglies’ – The Jerusalem Artichoke

Sweet Uglies (after a hair cut)

I know Celeriac is sometimes called the ugly one, but surely the Jerusalem Artichoke takes this title.  All those knobbles, lumps and hairy bits!  We affectionately call them ‘Uglies’.

These ‘chokes’ are delicious though and have been a staple in the B.H.K. all winter, with Hootons Homegrown offering a cheap and constant supply.  Although they grow in abundance in the U.K., they are a rarely used veg.  I have been eating them with glee, without really knowing much about them.  Were they from Jerusalem?  Are they a particularly religious vegetable?

The Jerusalem Artichoke is regarded as one of the finest tubers, faintly mushroomy in flavour, sweet and nutty.  When roasted they caramelise and when boiled make a great mash, treat them like a potato, with the exception that they are amazing raw.  Grated or chopped on salads they can add great crunch and go best with something salty, we love them with a little strong cheese.

The name is completely misleading, the Jerusalem Artichoke is not from Jerusalem or an artichoke!  They actually hail from North America where they were cultivated by Native Americans and are sometimes called a ‘sunchoke’ or ‘earth apple’ which are far cooler names.  They are the root of a plant belonging to the same family as the sunflower, the ‘Jerusalem’ maybe comes from the Italian word for sunflower ‘girasole’.

A word of warning.  These tubers store the carbohydrate inulin, which is a good source of fructose.  However, the inulin cannot be broken down by the body causing flatulence and potential discomfort.  This explains alot!  In the 17th century, a disgruntled English gardener was quoted as saying:

which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine than men.”

They are sometimes used as cattle feed.  Lucky cattle.  In Germany they make a liquor from the root called ‘Topi’.

The ‘uglies’ should maybe called the ‘windies’, either way, they are coming to the end of their season in Britain and are well worth the risk of a little after dinner wind!

Categories: Local food, Welsh produce | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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