The Jerusalem artichoke—a plant of the sunflower family grown for its knobbly potato-like tubers and not to be confused with the globe artichoke—has no connection whatsoever with the city of Jerusalem, and does not even have first claim on the name artichoke. It is a native of North America, and when Europeans first encountered it and brought it home in the early seventeenth century they were apparently struck by a resemblance between its taste and that of the globe artichoke—and so they called it artichoke. It was first cultivated in Europe at the Farnese gardens in Rome around 1617, and when it was exported it took its Italian name girasole, ‘sunflower’—literally ‘turning to the sun’—with it. The English, however, could make little of this outlandish term, and so they immediately transformed it into something more manageable—familiar enough to pronounce, and yet suggestive of foreign parts: Jerusalem (‘Artichocks of Ierusalem is a roote vsually eaten with butter, vinegar, and pepper,’ Tobias Venner, Via Recta, 1620).
The French term for the ‘Jerusalem artichoke’ is the delightful topinambour, which apparently was originally the name of a small Brazilian tribe.
Subjects: Cookery, Food, and Drink.