By now, everyone must know that the root vegetable was topinabur.
For some reason my grandmothers would not smother pork meat with onions but instead used either topinabur or turnip. She would also use topinabur when cooking beef or chicken when onions were not available. As popular as topinabur was in olden times, I doubt if many modern housewives have ever heard of it. Although seldom grown in local gardens, the vegetable can be purchased in major retail stores under the names sun choke, sun root, or Jerusalem artichoke.
The topinabur plant is native to North America and is related to the sunflower. It produces tubers that resemble the ginger root and comes in different colors; red, brown, blue, purple, and the white common variety grown locally. The plant produces beautiful flowers similar to the sunflower. The Native American name for the sunflower and topinabur was “ghirasol,” which confused the early European explorers to think it was “Jerusalem.” But topinabur is not from Jerusalem and is not an artichoke. French explorer Samuel Champlain noted that the vegetable had a taste similar to the artichoke, thus the misnamed Jerusalem artichoke.
Ever since explorers brought these vegetables to their country, the French began growing them successfully. They were sold by street vendors who named them topinambours after the Topinambour tribe of Argentina. Several members of the tribe had been captured and brought to France as an exhibit and naturally they brought along with them a favorite dish, the topinabur.
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