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April 10, 2018 > Celebrate artichokes

Celebrate artichokes

By Pat Kite

Once upon a time I grew an artichoke. Well, not exactly. I bought a pre-started artichoke plant at a local garden center. Visions of fresh artichokes, boiled, then slathered in butter and mayonnaise filled my brain. Everybody knows fresh is better. Unfortunately, as the plant grew, I saw a little purple pom-pom forming. Artichoke pom-poms make splendid cut flowers. My taste buds warred with my garden motto. The pom-poms won.

If you want homegrown edible artichokes, you must sever them before they approach seniority. Each little edible pointy piece is actually a flower bud. This is the part you pull off, dip in something tasty, and slurp. When you pull off the edibles, what remains is the base. This is the ÔheartÕ of the artichoke, a special treat. However, if you forget to clip the stems, the buds will become flowers, big purple flowers that look lovely in a vase.

To use for dˇcor, cut the stems as long as possible. Rubber band two or three stems together at the base. Tie a string to this base. Then hang the group upside down in a warm dry place with good circulation. After about three weeks, you can use for dˇcor.

I never thought of artichokes as international travelers. History remains vague, but ancient Greek texts mentioned them as far back as the eighth century BCE. Wild artichokes can still be found in North Africa. Improvement tinkerers began in Sicily. Then on to many hybridizers, including the Arab world and Muslim Spain. When Catherine de Medici left Italy to marry King Henry II of France, she took artichokes along with her. Dutch voyagers introduced artichokes to England. By 1530, Henry the VIII grew them in the palace gardens. Immigrants from France, accompanied by artichoke plants, came to Louisiana; Spanish immigrants brought artichokes to California.

Time to celebrate. California produces nearly 100 percent of the American artichoke crop. In 1922, the first artichoke shoots were planted in Castroville. The 2018 Castroville Artichoke Food & Wine Festival is June 2 and 3 at the Monterey County Fair and Event Center. Did you know that, back in 1948, Norma Jean Mortenson, later known as Marilyn Monroe, was CaliforniaÕs first honorary Artichoke Queen?

Varieties somewhat available: Green Globe (USA, South Africa), Violet de Provence (France), Violet dÕAlgerie (Algeria), Baladi (Egypt), Criolla (Peru), Nato (Argentina), Verda de Palermo (Sicily), Bayrampasha (Turkey), Blanca de Tudela (Spain). There are more.

Plants generally require full sun, but in our area, they can do with some shade. Several people I know grow artichokes. ÒEasy,Ó they say. ÒBeen doing it for years.Ó I buy them in little jars. Very tasty.

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