It’s not often that I can write a post on here about a new variety of vegetable that is safe. Okay, they are not exactly ‘new’, but they are new to me and have not been mentioned on here before. Both are, as far as I am reasonably aware, tasty and perfectly safe to eat (although as with any foods there are always some things that appear safe but that a small number of people react to.)
Let me introduce you to Oca and Jerusalem Artichoke.
Oca, also known as New Zealand Yam, is a small tuber, smooth skinned but appearing to have fold-lines, and is available in various colours (I’ve grown white and pink ones this year). We ate it roasted and found that it tastes very like ordinary potatoes, although slightly sweeter and with a slightly softer texture. It is not to be confused with any other sort of Yam – they are different vegetables. Oca also has the added benefit of having edible, citrus-flavoured leaves, which I also ate in salads over the summer and thoroughly enjoyed.
Jerusalem Artichoke is not from Jerusalem, nor is it an artichoke. Also known as Sunchoke, the name ‘Jerusalem’ came from a mistranslation of the Italian word for sunflower, which is what the above-ground plant looks like. It is not to be confused with the big edible flowers of the globe artichoke – it comprises another small tuber, this time with a brown, flaky skin and somewhat warty appearance. Again we ate it roasted and found that it was softer than both potato and Oca and had a pleasant, slightly nutty taste.
According to all the literature both types of tuber can be eaten in a very similar manner to potatoes, but are easier to grow as they are not susceptible to blight like potato plants are. I suspect they’ll be available to purchase in some local greengrocers, farm shops or farmers markets, but as far as I know the big supermarkets do not regularly stock them.
They are easily grown and can be re-grown from the tubers you harvested the previous year (unlike potatoes which have to have ‘seed’ tubers purchased fresh).
Oca stockists include: http://www.realseeds.co.uk/unusualtubers.html or http://www.marshalls-seeds.co.uk/oca-tubers-new-zealand-yam-plant-pid6971.html. Be sure to follow the growing instructions supplied as the tubers don’t start to form until late in the year. Note that it is a tender plant so if you get a lot of early frost it might not grow very well for you. (That said it grew fantastically in Southern Scotland this year, primarily thanks to the warm autumn we had).
Jerusalem artichoke stockists include: http://www.unwins.co.uk/british-original-artichoke-pid2439.html or http://www.thompson-morgan.com/vegetables/all-other-vegetables/artichokes/jerusalem-artichoke-originals/aww3465TM. Note that there are other varieties available, but this is the one I grew. It is very easy to grow and fully winter hardy.