it’s all how you define success

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This weekend, I’ll plant the garlic, and then I’m done.

The garden and I are no good for each other. We come together with the best of intentions, the garden and I, always thinking it will be different, thinking we have finally changed each other. I hum to myself as I kneel in the straw. I am wide-eyed and optimistic, and I know that if only I work harder I’ll make it what I know it can be. The un-edged rows, weedy beds, and poorly scheduled plantings will someday transform into thisthis, and especially this! If only I were better, purer, more patient, more committed!

In the end, Joey comes out after dark to drag me back inside. He finds me crouched in the sowthistle, scraped, dirty, simultaneously cursing and enchanted, having done nothing I set out to do, but only other things I didn’t even plan for. Even those tasks are half-completed, but it’s dark and cold, and the garden has spit me out again. Till next time, my love. You know I’ll be back.

And what do I have to show for it? Some bolted broccoli raab and four million Jerusalem artichokes.

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I know, right? Success!

Jerusalem artichokes taste somewhere between a potato, jicama, and the heart of an artichoke. In the summer, the plants sprout a thick and aggressive jungle of tiny-headed sunflowers, but the tubers will feed you all winter if you let them take over, which I do. If you’re a fancy farm-to-table restaurant, you will most likely call them sunchokes and serve them in a way that has no regard for the pain you will cause your poor customers later after they’ve gone home and their belly has started to swell and, well…

If you are in my house,  I will boil them first. This is the trick! I promise. I will even sometimes hide them in the midst of other things, and when you ask, “What is that wild knotty flavor?” I’ll admit that there is an entire bed of that flavor outside, and you are welcome to it. And then I’ll give you a bag full of dirt and ugly duckling knobby tubers. Here are a few things to do with them when you get home. Of course, you can also plant them, and then you’ll be in Jerusalem artichokes for life.

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25 Responses to it’s all how you define success

  1. ellen says:

    YUMMMMM! love them chokes! thanx for the ideas!

  2. molly says:

    i just love you to pieces, miss alana :)

    nigel has wonderful words to say about jerusalem artichokes and their, em, after-effects. which i fear i’ve experienced firsthand, being a greedy and speedy consumer of these ugly ducklings. but soup! that i’ve yet to do. if i were an inch closer, i’d march right over, spade in hand, and start digging. as it is, i’ll have to hunt some down…

    xo,
    molly

    • alana says:

      Well of COURSE, nigel would have something to say. And you know I’d listen to him say absolutely anything about anything. And how I’d love to see you digging in my garden! I’d pull you inside and make you dinner. xo

  3. Rebecca Strout says:

    The herb, winter savory will counteract the gassy attributes of the jerusalem artichoke.

  4. Jen says:

    I love using them in soup – I often add a diced celery root (celeriac) and marjoram. If I have some on hand, I sprinkle a little ricotta salata and maybe some diced parsley on top – yum!!! My toddler is obsessed with it. :)

  5. Anna says:

    Darn, now I am asking myself WHHHY didn’t I ever plant Jerusalem artichokes. Why?? Every time I think I’m done, I find something else I just must plant…they sound delicious. I’m eyeing up the neighbor’s backyard. They’ll never know they’re planted at the back of the property line. Thank you!

    • alana says:

      Do it! You just have to put a few in the ground, and then the deed is done. And yes, a little patch the edge of your yard is perfect. Give them space where they can really take over if they like.

  6. Margit Van Schaick says:

    Alana, do yourself a favor, and you’ll have a thriving salad garden all season and an abundance of herbs, as well by building a couple of 4′ by 8′, 12″ deep elevated beds filled with organic compost. No problems with deer, woodchucks, or rabbits. It’s so easy to keep weeded and planted, constantly producing wonderful veggies. For your main crops, I highly recommend raised beds with 12″ high untreated wooden sides. You can install hoops from Johnny’s Seeds to thwart bugs and extend the season. Wood chips in the paths will control weeds. I think that a productive garden does not need to be a burden. Invest in the beginning and you will literally reap great rewards. You will feel so good going out with your family to pick the salad and veggies for your dinner. You’re lucky to have a farmer’s market and/or organic farm near you, and I know you said that you worked there some. I find that prices for organic produce are exorbitantly high and I love choosing the varieties I want to grow in the ” garden within reach”, right outside my kitchen door!

    • alana says:

      Oh, thank you, Margit! I’m definitely exaggerating for humor’s sake here :) The garden did in fact gift us with lots of food this year, and although I didn’t invest in a few things that would have helped in the beginning, I’m now 10 years into this sweet garden and we’ll make it work. I’ve got lots of organic compost, and nice straw covered paths in the beginning of the season, at least. And yes, I’m lucky to work at the Farmers’ market every Saturday, so I have access to endless wonderful veggies. Thanks for all your suggestions and support.

  7. Anna says:

    A question on those chokes….are they deer resistant, Alana? And I think you’re being too hard on yourself about the garden; it’s a lot easier to find time to plant and tend a garden when you don’t have children to raise.

    • alana says:

      Ah, thank you Anna. It’s true, I get hard on myself! But I think it’s easy to feel like we all should be so good at gardening just because we want to be. I really do love it, and I know I’ll keep learning new things every year :) And as for those chokes- I wouldn’t say they’re deer resistant. They’re something else all together. All summer, the deer nibble (and sometimes outright prune) the plants, and they grow back even heartier and the tubers never seem to be affected. So they deer definitely like the greens, but it doesn’t seem to matter much.

  8. mike says:

    my printer is about to run out of ink

  9. oh THANK YOU for saying what you did about gardening! I guess I think that I have to be good at gardening, too, and I’m NOT. I keep trying, though, trying to remember back to the days when I was not a good cook but I kept learning through mistakes.

    I love Jerusalem artichokes. I have never cooked them – oh dear! We usually put them raw in green salads.

    I would consider my garden a success if I had a lot of anything! I never have, yet.

    • alana says:

      It’s so try Margo, we have to start somewhere, right? I always think happily on the image of myself in 20 years, such an AWESOME gardener. There’s always time.

  10. Karla says:

    I’ve thought about growing sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes, have hesitated because of descriptions that say they have the texture of water chestnuts (which I don’t like because of their texture), but have recently see them in pureed soup recipes. Do they have the texture of water chestnuts? What cooking treatments get rid of that?

    • alana says:

      When they’re raw, they are quite similar to water chestnuts, but pretty much any other way, they loose that texture. And I think they’re great in pureed soups, so that takes care of that too. Mostly, I’d recommend growing them if you have a corner of your yard where they can really take over. The flowers are pretty, the stalks spread, and they produce a ton of tubers for the winter with minimal work from you.

  11. Stephanie says:

    I’ve been digging my Jerusalem artichokes for weeks now. Planted 30 in a row 3 years ago. Didn’t understand how to dig them up the first year (tried to just pull, got roots but no tubers, of course), but dug up about 10 pounds last year. Thought they wouldn’t spread after all that digging. Silly me. I’ve now dug up over 3 buckets full, and I’m not done.

    They really do take over! But you get to feed all of your friends.

  12. Erin says:

    I am such a gardening failure, but every year I am somehow determined to try again!

  13. Anna says:

    Alana, your next book should be on the kitchen garden for the extremely busy…I think it’s a great topic that many can relate to.

  14. Christine says:

    Sounds like my battle with the vegetable patch! Every year I’m convinced that this year will be different, I will harvest the food, I will weed and water it regularly. So far no success, but I have high hopes for this year…

  15. Pingback: This Mom's Beach Bucket List: Soup solves winter woes - Berkshire Family Focus —Things to do with kids in Berkshire County MA

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