Week 3: Artichokes

artichoke

The globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) is a type of thistle from the sunflower family which has been cultivated as a food. The plant, including the stalk on which the artichoke “flower” grows is 4-7 feet tall. The large edible head or bud of the plant is formed of thick leaves or “bracts,” the heart and the “choke.”  The name artichoke comes from the Italian words articiocco and cocali which mean pine cone.

History

Native to the Mediterranean area, artichokes were described by Greek philosopher and naturalist, Theophrastus (371-287 B.C.), who had seen them in Italy and Sicily. Ancient Greeks and Romans considered them a delicacy and thought they were an aphrodisiac. Artichokes were mentioned in France in the mid-16th century and were introduced to England by the Dutch around the same time period. French immigrants brought them to Louisiana and Spanish immigrants introduced them to California and Half Moon Bay in the 19th century.  Later member of the New York mafia, Ciro Terranove became known as the “Artichoke King” after the commandeered all the crates of artichokes shipped from California and resold them at a 30-40 percent profit. . Did you know that 99.9% of artichokes in the US are grown in California? This prompted the governor to recently name it as the state’s official vegetable.

Cultivation

There are over 140 varieties of artichokes. Though technically perennials that normally produce the edible flower only during the second and subsequent years, certain varieties of artichoke can be grown from seed as annuals, producing a limited harvest at the end of the first growing season, even in regions where the plants are not normally winter-hardy. This means home gardeners in northern regions may be able to grow artichokes without providing winter protection.

When harvested, the artichokes are cut from the plant leaving an inch or two of stem. Artichokes will stay fresh for a week or two in the refrigerator.

Retail florists also use the globe artichoke in floral arrangements, and it is sometimes grown in flower borders due to the attractive purplish flower head.

Health benefits

Artichokes have some of the highest levels of antioxidants in the fleshy part of their leaves and in the heart. Artichokes have been found to aid digestion, gall bladder function and to reduce cholesterol. The chemical acid cynarine in artichokes inhibits taste receptors, making other foods eaten with artichokes taste somewhat sweeter.

Culinary uses

Artichokes are cooking in a variety of ways – from steaming or boiling them whole and stuffing them to using the artichoke hearts in salads, stews and casseroles.  In the Mediterranean, it is popular to precook and marinate baby artichokes before roasting them on a grill.

Resources:

California Artichoke Advisory Board. http://www.artichokes.org

Cultivating a Healthy Food System. http://www.ceusa.org

Stradley, Linda. “History of Artichokes.”  http://www.whatscookingamerica.net

Wikipedia. http://www.en.wikipedia.org

 

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