Having mentioned the flavor of artichokes in two previous articles, I thought this would be a good time to discuss one of my family’s favorite festive foods. Cynara scolymus is a member of the thistle family. The globe artichoke is the bud of the flower, which can be eaten or used in dry arrangements.
Though artichokes have been around since ancient times, they have only been cultivated for their large buds since the 1400s. They were improved in medieval Spain and from there spread to France and Italy. Today they are very popular all around the Mediterranean Sea. The Spanish brought them to California, and the French to Vietnam where they grow in the mountains.
In the United States, this vegetable is grown commercially only in California. Eighty percent of the crop is grown in Monterey County. My hometown is only nine miles from Castroville, the self-proclaimed “artichoke capital of the world!” There the perennial plants grow in the sandy soil over looking Monterey Bay. The mornings are foggy until the chilly wind blows in from the Pacific. These plants love a cool, damp, temperate environment. There they produce year-round. However, if you were to have one in a kitchen garden, expect flowering primarily in April and October.
Preparing artichokes is very easy. After washing it, cut the stem flush with the bottom so it can stand. Tear off the lower, ragged petals. Cutting off the thorny tips is optional but certainly gives an upscale look to the presentation. Boil the whole chokes for 35 to 45 minutes. They are done when a sharp fork or knife easily penetrates the base. Then drain them in a colander and serve.
Artichokes may be served hot, cold or at room temperature. When served hot, melted butter is frequently used as a dip. The cold ones are excellent with creamy dips. To eat the bud, pull off a petal, dip the fleshy end in the sauce and scrape off that end with your teeth. The inner petals are quite tender and so can be eaten a third to halfway to the top. As you reach the bottom, scrape out the inedible “choke” and enjoy the very best part, the artichoke heart.
The flavor of artichokes is more familiar since it has been introduced as a dip ingredient. The availability of canned artichoke hearts makes whipping up a recipe easy for anyone. I see them featured in readymade cold dips as well. I find the mildly earthy flavor complements the foods we favor at this time of year.
I have been known to give spontaneous seminars on the preparation and consumption of artichokes in the produce aisle. I find that children are as curious as their parents are dubious. If you have a reluctant veggie gobbler at your house, the novelty alone may tempt him to try one.
To see videos on how to prepare and eat artichokes, visit the website of Ocean Mist Farms, where you can find recipes as well.
Master gardener Ann Bartlett never lets lack of familiarity of a plant prevent her from vivisecting it in the produce aisle for the edification of the young.