Think in taste, appreciate the ordinary

Artichoke

artichokes and heart in the middle

History of a a thistle

The beauty of the artichoke lays in the origin. On how human curiosity pushed someone to approach a thistle and eat it. Was this fellow human just curious or rather starving? Was it all about a bet or a lucky trial instead of a painful error? Because this goes well beyond like or dislike. Whereas a shiny colorful fruit may lure someone in eating it, a thistle is a thistle. 

spiky version of the artichoke

Artichoke: the Greek way

In the 8th century BC, Homer mentions the artichoke as a garden plant, kaktus (spiny plant). And then there is the myth. Zeus, visiting his brother Poseidon, spots a beautiful girl, Cynara, bathing in the sea. He falls in love, turns her into a goddess and takes the girl as spouse along to Mount Olympus. With her husband often on the road, Cynara gets lonely and one day sneaks off for a family visit. Zeus promptly turns her into an artichoke. Ouch! Not a star, not a flower, not a river or a lake, a thistle! Eversince it’s Cynara cardunculus, Cyanara the thistle, the scientific name of the artichoke. I wonder if she likes that.

Sampolo 246 - Cultori del Gusto

Sicily up, exporting the artichoke

The Greek brought the artichoke to Sicily where it was cultivated. The Romans were very keen on this vegetable. Pliny the Elder describes and praises them. Eaten with honey and vinegar they were supposed to have aphrodisiac qualities.

The Arabs called the artichoke ‘Al karsufu’ and introduced them in Southern Spain were they dominated the situation back then. Only half way thought the 15th century the vegetable traveled up north. Caterina de Medici took the artichoke along to the French court, where it instantly became a success. On the other side of the pond, Henry the Eight was a great fan and would eat to 15 a day.

The choke goes the the States

The French introduced the artichoke in the United States in the 18th century. George Washington cultivated them in his garden and his wife came up with an excellent recipe. Today they are mostly grown in California, with Castroville as the artichoke capital. Marilyn Monroe is honorary ‘Miss Artichoke’.

Loves me, loves me not

Here’s one way to eat artichokes. Pull each leaf off the choke and hold the pointed end between your fingers and drag the leaf between your teeth. Most of the edible portion is on inside bottom as about 1/3 of the choke leaf. When you’ve eaten all the leaves you’ll see the heart or flower of the choke. Once you see a bed of fuzzy or hair like strands you’ve hit the heart. Scoop out the fuzz with a spoon and discard. The rest of the base of the choke is edible, referred to as the heart.

Città del carciofo

The small town of Cerda, Sicily is known for its artichokes. They hold a yearly festival, attracting people from all over Italy. A number of restaurants offer a dedicated menu in during the season. Highly recommended. The small town of Castroville, California, is also known for its artichokes. They too have a yearly festival, attracting people from all over the place. Numerous restaurants prepare artichoke based dishes. Don’t forget to visit the huge spiky artichoke. Highly recommended.

Artichoke city

The small town of Castroville, California, is also known for its artichokes. They too have a yearly festival, attracting people from all over the place. Numerous restaurants prepare artichoke based dishes. Don’t forget to visit the huge choke. Highly recommended.

statue in the town of Cerda
huge choke in castroville

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