Yacón (Smallanthus sonchifolius)


Last autumn my friend Evan moved from Castle Rock, WA to the Portland metropolitan area. Most of the moving took place while I was still away in the Carolinas, but I made sure to have at least a day or two set aside to help transport whatever they needed, and to help wrap up garden tasks. On the last day helping there, the last task was to dig up some yacón, a crop I’d only heard about, and one which I was eager to learn more about. Since I finally ate some this week, it seemed like a good time to mention the delicious New World tuberous treat.

Evan holding up the plant before we chopped it back to harvest the two kinds of tubers.

Evan wrote about the crop before, and I encourage you to read the whole post of theirs since it’s loaded with additional information as well as growing notes for the other crops they trialed a few years ago. Since I’ve only just tasted this, I don’t know yet how to grow it but we did harvest this one huge plant and boy did it NOT disappoint!

The flowers are definitely not very showy and are considered insignificant but they were sweet to see on that cold autumn day.

When we dug the plant up, I asked questions but didn’t retain the information since it was a long and cold day. What I remember though was that one plant ended up producing a lot of tubers and that it sounded like it wasn’t very difficult to grow. My hope is that the tubers I kept to grow at my community garden plot will sprout well and I can continue to keep this one around.

What I learned during a followup with Evan this weekend was that the original start was most likely purchased at the garden show in Seattle a few years ago from the Raintree Nursery booth.

Since then Evan kept it going and now hopefully Tamara at Chickadee Gardens and I can keep these going. (We passed on most of the propagative tubers to her, but she and I both got some so no pressure.)

In the post that Evan wrote above, the nursery Cultivariable is mentioned, and I will add that this is not just a resource for edible tubers you can grow, but it’s also a fun site just to sit and read the content. From potatoes to yacón, oca to mashua, ulluco to sunchokes, this is the resource! If you’re looking for potato species to grow for ornamental purposes (since most don’t taste great), again, this is the place! Or if you want to grow the potato (Solanum jamesii) native to the American SW, again, this is where you can find it. (Though the grower makes it clear that this is not a reliable food crop.) Luckily they sell many other interesting ones you can try—but as in vitro platelets it seems, so dare to be different! Why not!?!

While I wish that I could give you some amazing photos of a dish I made with these big beauties, I must confess to only having eaten one of the smaller ones fresh today. After we harvested everything, the propagation bits had to be separated and then we had to store the edible tubers so as to increase their tastiness. Well, even with a diminished capacity to taste and smell right now, I very much enjoyed the sweetness of the tuber I ate raw this afternoon.

Additionally, due to being in COVID-19 isolation, I can’t go to the store. Yes, that’s right, we’ve finally been hit with the modern plague here at home and I cannot yet go to the store again.

So, what did it taste like? It was delicious! Will I eat them again? Absolutely!

Once I’ve chosen three recipes, I’ll add them here in a post. I plan to make a few different dishes to see how different preparations change the taste and flavor. (If you have a favorite, let me know in the comments!)

So until then, stay warm out there and dream about the tasty tubby tubers you can grow in your garden this year!

Cardoons: An Edible Ornamental


Joe, the Cardoon, and I

Nearly 10 years ago I grew two lovely cardoon (Cynara cardunculusplants here at the house. An easy plant to grow from seed, I jokingly referred to it them as ‘Cardoonicus Maximus’ due to their imposing stature. Though clearly not at all the proper technical name for the plant, it stuck. If ever you’ve seen one of these in person, you’ll know they’re very dramatic. Many strangers would approach me when I was out front gardening to ask about them. I was proud.

But few ever asked why I’d grown them…

You see, back then, one of Grandpa Sam’s cousins was still alive. Like my grandfather, Joe had been the son of Sicilian immigrants. While visiting him one day at a nearby nursing home, we started to talk about the Sicilian dishes my family used to make and the unusual vegetables they’d grow for special dishes. Joe told me that only the old guys grew these plants and that he’d always thought they tasted good.

He added that he’d noticed gardens in SE Portland where cardoons had been planted, but that the cardoons were clearly not being grown to be eaten. He thought that was really funny. I’d noticed them too, and thought the plants were pretty, so I asked him if he’d like for me to grow some for him. We were both really excited about the arrangement so it was off to the garden I went!

Sadly, Joe did not live long enough to share those first cardoons with our family, so now whenever I see them, it makes me kind of sad. Eating those first few batches was kind of emotional without him.

Growing  CardoonsP1020322

Growing cardoons is quite easy since they are technically thistles.

Need I say more? 

They like sun, can tolerate poor soil, and don’t need a lot of water. Their spines hurt though and in order to prepare them to be eaten their centers need to be blanched. This means tying the plants up and heaping soil around their base.

In my climate (zone 8) they are an edible perennial. (We ate ours for three seasons then tore out the plants due to their size.)

I’ve found that they are very easily grown from seed. If you can grow artichokes, you can grow cardoons.

Cooking the CardoonsIMG_8146

Last winter—while giving a talk about seed starting at Drake’s Garden Store—the co-host of a local garden-themed TV show was in the audience and asked me if I’d cook them on the show. (I was discussing growing them from seed—go figure.)

“Of course,” I blurted out!

So here we are today. Since I didn’t grow the plants this season I had to find a local purveyor and was lucky enough to find them courtesy of Viridian Farms. We’re blessed with great local growers and I can’t wait to cook up more of their produce. They have an amazing selection of hard-to-find items.

(If you’re interested in seeing me in the Garden Time episode you can find it by clicking here. I’m in the last segment with my friend William and I have to say the experience was wonderful.)

As for the recipe I used, here it is!

Cardoons in Tomato Sauce

(adapted from Angelo Pellegrini’s recipe in his book The Unprejudiced Palate)


• 1 head of fresh cardoons (remove the thickest outer stalks)

• 3-4 slices of bacon, 1/4 lb. lean salt pork, cut into pieces

• 1 large clove of garlic, minced

• 1 medium onion, minced

• 3 sprigs of parsley, chopped

• 1 sprig of marjoram, minced

• 1 cup of tomatoes, canned and diced

• 1 cup of stock, chicken or vegetable

• 1/2 cup Parmigiano cheese

• 1/2 cup bread crumbs

• salt and pepper to taste

• 2 lemons or 1/2 cup lemon juice

Remove the hardened outer stalks of the cardoon and use the inner portion of the plant for this recipe. Prepare the cardoon stalks one at a time with a knife and/or peeler and when finished, place each piece into a bowl of water acidified with lemon juice.

To prepare the cardoons, remove the tough outer ribs on each stalk with a knife or peeler. Then scape the inner portion to remove some of the fuzziness. (This can be done with a small knife.) Slice each stalk into 2- to 3-inch pieces and toss into the large bowl of lemon water. After the cardoons are all prepared, toss them into a large pot of boiling water with a pinch of salt to scald them. Boil for several minutes and then drain and set aside.

In a large pan cook the bacon or pork pieces for several minutes until browned. Add the onion and garlic and continue to cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. Toss in the parsley and marjoram and cook slowly until the onions are done. Add the tomatoes and stock and simmer for 15 minutes. At this point add the drained cardoons and simmer for approximately 20-30 minutes longer making sure to turn the cardoons often. They will be ready when the cardoons are tender.

A few minutes before serving, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cheese and stir.

If you’d like to make the dish more fancy drizzle lightly with truffle oil. The dish also goes very well with a roasted chicken or other simple main dish.

(If you’d like to learn more about pioneering food and garden writer Angelo Pellegrini find out more by clicking here.)

Footnote: Impressing your Friends with the Cardoon


Walking through the farmer’s market with one of these slung over your shoulder will make other shoppers jealous. I can’t tell you how many men pointed and wanted whatever it was my husband had because it was big and looked cool.


Leaving a ‘Great White’ Cardoon on your front porch will impress your dinner guests and gardening buddies.