The Circus Gardener's Kitchen

seasonal vegetarian recipes with a side helping of food politics

Jerusalem artichoke and roast garlic soup

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Traditionally, the onset of winter is the time when those who maintain gardens, allotments and smallholdings settle down with a handful of seed catalogues to decide what to grow next year.

David Holmgren, one of the originators of the permaculture system of gardening, once described growing your own food as “a political act”. It is certainly true that those of us who do grow at least some of our own food are a little less dependent on the vast, impersonal agricultural and commercial networks that deliver most of our food. However, for me, the decision about what to grow is an equally important political act.

Some growers will have saved their own seed from the crops they grew last year, echoing the sow-reap-sow cycle that for centuries was the heartbeat of traditional farming (until large-scale agribusiness burst onto the scene after the second world war, quickly coming to dominate food production).

It is only possible to follow this sow-reap-sow cycle using heritage plant seeds (also known as heirloom seeds), as these are the only seed varieties which breed true, the same characteristics being passed on from one generation to the next. These traditional varieties have adapted over time to suit their growing environments, but each of them can be traced back through time, in a genetic lineage, to the wild seeds humankind sowed when we first took up farming.

Heritage seeds are, however, dying out. That is why choosing to grow them is such an important political act.

Modern, industrial scale farming relies almost entirely on hybrid (F1) seed varieties. These hybrids are not “true” seeds. They cannot be saved and sown again in the way that heritage varieties can: the farmer must purchase them annually from the seed merchants. This drawback is outweighed for the commercial farmer by the fact that F1 hybrids produce plants which are uniform in appearance and which tend to ripen at the same time, meaning only one harvest is needed. They are also often chosen by commercial growers for their qualities of durability, rather than their taste, as they may need to be transported long distances.

Within the European Union it is illegal to sell seed varieties that are not listed as approved for sale, a ruling which effectively encompasses most heritage varieties because of the expense associated with obtaining registration. The effect has been disastrous: diminishing still further the numbers of heritage varieties. This shrinking gene pool of true seeds has enormous implications for our future food security. If heritage varieties disappeared completely and we had to rely upon F1 hybrids, we would starve within a generation. It is only down to seed swapping and the work of organisations like the Heritage Seed Library that many varieties are being kept in existence.

Heritage seeds adapt gradually and naturally, from generation to generation, to suit the conditions in which you grow them. The advantages that hybrids offer to the large-scale commercial grower are of little value to the smaller scale grower. It’s better for us to have a broad window of time during which our crops ripen rather than for everything to ripen at the same time, creating a glut. We can also choose varieties for their taste, not for their ability to be transported long distances, because we know they will be eaten very close to source.

So, my fellow growers, be political and choose your seeds wisely!

jerusalem-artichokes-in-flowerjereusalem-artichokesgarlicfresh thyme

A delightful culinary ingredient, the Jerusalem artichoke is in season right now.

It originates from North America, and the “Jerusalem” in its name is believed to be a corruption of the Italian word “girasole” (“sunflower”). The Jerusalem artichoke is in fact a distant relative of the sunflower, growing 2 to 3 metres in height and producing attractive yellow flowers in the autumn (making them a useful late food source for bees). The edible parts of the plant, the “chokes”, are the knobbly, tuberous swellings in the roots.

Sweet, nutty and earthy in flavour, the Jerusalem artichoke can be roasted, fried, mashed and even made into ice cream, but I think it works particularly well in soups, and this example is, in my humble opinion, truly divine.

Jerusalem artichoke and roast garlic soup


500 g organic Jerusalem artichokes
10 cloves garlic
1 onion, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1.2 litres vegetable stock
½ tsp sea salt
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

to garnish
1 tsp soy cream
1 tsp finely chopped chives


1. Pre-heat the oven to 150°C (300°F, gas mark 2). Place the garlic cloves in a roasting tin. Drizzle with a tablespoon of the olive oil and toss to coat. Place in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes, by which time the garlic will be soft. Remove from the oven and leave to cool down. Once it is cool, squeeze out the soft garlic pulp and keep to one side.

2. Scrub the artichokes and chop roughly into chunks. Heat the remaining two tablespoons of oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and cook, stirring, until it is soft and translucent. Add the chopped artichoke and cook for a further minute, stirring thoroughly, before adding the vegetable stock, sea salt, roast garlic pulp and most of the thyme, reserving a few chopped leaves for garnish.

3. Bring the contents of the pan to the edge of a boil then reduce the heat to low. Place a lid over the pan and simmer gently for 25 minutes or until the artichoke is very tender. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Blend into a smooth soup using a food processor or blender.

4. Reheat the soup gently in a clean pan but do not allow it to boil. Serve in bowls with a swirl of soy cream and a scattering of chopped chives.

Categories: dairy free, gluten free, vegan

Tags: , ,

15 replies

  1. Another highly pertinent post, thank you, again, The Circus Gardener 🙂

  2. This soup looks wonderful. I have friends who grow Jerusalem artichokes and you can bet I’ll be in line for some when winter rolls around.

  3. Once again a simple yet healthy recipe apt for winter. Artichoke is supposed to have great benefits for heart health.

    • Thank you Rashmi. I didn’t know that Jerusalem artichoke is supposed to be good for the heart, although I did know it can help lower blood pressure, and thinking about it I guess the one follows on from the other! 🙂

  4. I so look forward to reading what you have to say next. I can see how girasole might have mutated into Jerusalem but never would have picked it. May try to make the soup in winter, it’s searing summer down under where I live.

    • Thank you Mary, I always love your comments. Whilst you enjoy the searing heat of summer do spare a thought for those of us here in the northern hemisphere as the temperatures plummet below freezing. Steve 🙂

  5. Interesting re the heritage varieties – as a novice, I’m always a bit reticent to stray from the obvious path but also like the idea of growing things you can’t buy in the shops – and being part of saving such seeds. Soup looks gorgeous too – my artichokes have done amazingly well; time to go and dig up a few more, I think.

    • Thank you for your kind comments. This soup really is terrific, so I do hope that you will give it a try. If you want to try a few heritage seed varieties you may be lucky and find some at a local seed swap event (these are usually held around March, before the planting season gets really under way). Otherwise, why not try membership of the Heritage Seed Library, which entitles you to choose several samples of heritage seed varieties each year, from which you can grow the fruit/vegetable and then harvest the seeds for sowing the following year. Many of my heritage seeds came from HSL originally, and by joining the organisation you would be supporting the valuable conservation work it does. Steve

      • I’ve never seen Artichokes in the supermarkets here. I know they are hard to grow

      • Hi, and thanks for your comments. Jerusalem artichokes are grown like potatoes: a single tuber is planted and grows into an adult plant. In my experience they aren’t difficult to grow (although they can be susceptible to strong autumn and winter winds), and once sown they provide a modest harvest each winter. As for using basil in the recipe, I’d say give it a try. I chose to use thyme because it has an earthiness which resonates with the artichoke and the roasted garlic. If you do decide to try it with basil let me know how you get on 🙂

  6. I like this recipe – healthy and tasteful! I wish you also Happy New Year with many creative recipes! Bye. Kamila

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