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The French Topinambour Question

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Dear Mr. McGee -

I'd like to say that every since I was a teen I have read and re-read your books and have purchased everything you've published. Thank you so much for coming to answer our questions here on eGullet.

I almost sent you a letter some time ago, after reading the fifth chapter of your book, The Curious Cook, which gave cathartic hindsight into our situation after a harrowing brush with topinambour. If only I had gone back to re-read your chapter before I skipped happily to market and returned home with my basket brimming with the lovely purple roots. So lovely.

I cooked them up right quick with a simple sautee in butter. My husband was delighted with crunch and the flavor, and I was a little bit less enthusiastic about them. He ate a good deal more than I did. That night we thought my dear husband was having a heart attack for awhile there. In the early morning hours I suddenly remembered that you had written about it at great length, having mentioned the French word for them only once or twice in your book, I didn't make the connection in my mind. The reason why I was going to write you a letter was that you see, my husband is French. :shock:

You mention in your book that in historical food literature the topinambour has been thoroughly panned by anglophones on both sides of the pond as the devils incarnation due to its wind producing properties, although in France not a word is mentioned about it. You venture to wonder if the French are immune to what seems to be an Anglo-Saxon intolerance to the root.

My husband is living proof that the French are definitely not immune, so you can cross that off your list. However, since learning to cook the French way, I wonder if French braising methods, which traditionally involve rather lengthy cooking first on top of the stove and then in the oven, wine often playing a role in the process could be a reason.

I admit that since our initial scare, I have not ventured to prepare this vegetable again, although I think that to master a successful cooking technique could be a good thing for me to do since it is cheap and plentiful in the winter months here.


Have you had any further meaningful exchange or discoveries involving the topinambour since writing The Curious Cook, and have any of your readers sent you more recipes or suggestions about how to best prepare it?

Thank you and kind regards,

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Thanks, Lucy, for your kind words and for this beautiful photo. No, I haven’t done much more with topinambours or sunchokes since Curious Cook. But I think you’re probably right that prolonged gentle heating makes them more tolerable; such conditions break the indigestible inulin (fructose chains) down into absorbable sugars. I’m glad to have some evidence that the French are just as sensitive as the rest of us, though I’m sorry that your husband had to suffer to provide it!

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