Blackadder: “Baldrick, have you no idea what irony is?”

Baldrick: “Yes, it’s like goldy and bronzy only it’s made out of iron”.

In my determined quest to reduce our household consumption of meat, treating it as an occasional pleasure rather than a daily expectation, I have come to rely on a few exemplary cookbooks. Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book (first published in 1978) is but one of the front runners although, somewhat ironically, it vies for pole position with her daughter Sophie’s later opus, Vegetables (published 2006). If you’re planning to undertake your own meat reduction anytime soon, and have not given your undivided attention to the world of vegetables, these two publications are indispensable additions to a culinary library. If you already own them, you will know that they are as helpful for their contextual back stories as they are for their individual recipes. Both mother and daughter have a playful sense of humour, with Sophie occasionally bordering on the mischievous. But an (apparent) oversight of gastronomic irony was a little unexpected.

A few days ago, I was granted a bucket load of Jerusalem Artichokes by one of our generous neighbours – a fine couple who border on an enviable self-sufficiency and grow almost everything. They even herd a substantive flock of two sheep throughout the year.

Prompted to research, I trawled my bookshelves for any publications that featured practical guidance on cooking these idiosyncratic rhizomes.

Long before reaching a regional culinary style, a convenient method of preparation or a modish riff on tried and tested recipes (very few I hasten to add), I was confronted by some off-putting PR as I communed with the culinary gods. Warnings as to the rigours of unsociable flatulence, untimely belching or challenging bowel movements were commonplace, and guidance to mediate any of the above ranged from scant to resigned. Jean Brillat-Savarin’s famous dictum ‘you are what you eat’ seemed to strike a chord.

Identification was just as bewildering. Jerusalem Artichokes have nothing whatsoever to do with the city of Jerusalem (as if any God would make that mistake) and as vegetable categories go, it has no familial link whatsoever to an Artichoke. Continuing the pattern that every silver lining has a cloud, they are not the most attractive vegetables either. Knobbly to a greater or lesser degree, they display a facial profile only a mother could love.

Our Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is in fact a close relative of the sunflower, and like the sunflower produce similar yellow flowers which follow the sun from the top of their tall stems. A mispronunciation of the Italian for sunflower, girasole, is a likely candidate.

So, this is where we return to the fine article from Vegetables on the subject written by Sophie Grigson, and I quote verbatim “…as if to make up for their inherent windiness, Jerusalem artichokes are often grown as windbreaks along the edge of a vegetable garden”

…as ironies go, what can I possibly add?

Meanwhile I came across a sublime recipe that almost tempered the colonic ventilation forecast by so many.

A delicate, gossamer-like soup with a heady perfume and a mellow, cob-nut flavour. And, ironically, it turns out to be one of the the most deliciously sumptuous soups I have tasted.

For such a dish I must thank Mark Hix and his book British Seasonal Food (2008). Mark always sounds a clarion note in support of matters vegetal.

A good knob of butter

1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped

1 leek, trimmed, roughly chopped and washed

500g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut into quarters

1.5 litres vegetable stock

Salt and freshly ground white pepper

2 tbsp double cream (non-dairy can be substituted)

Melt the butter in a saucepan and gently cook the onion and leek until soft.

Add Jerusalem artichokes and the vegetable stock and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 25 minutes until the artichokes are tender.

Strain about a quarter of the stock into a jug and set aside.

Whiz the rest of the soup into a blender until smooth, then strain through a fine sieve into a pan.

Stir in as much of the reserved stock as you need to get the right texture.

Stir in the cream, check the seasoning and serve.

Wine thoughts

I went for a simple German Riesling – QbA Trocken. A citrus flash on the nose with racy, crisp fruit on the palate, culminating in a fine acidity to cut across the sweet, rich body of our soup. A little solace for the novelty digestive action.