I’ve grown artichokes for two years now.
Grown from seed as much for their dominant structures as their distinct green globes.
Over the years, I’ve eaten a few but not many – but this is all set to change.
The memory of my first artichoke remains clearly with me. I was 13 and in France on a French exchange. I was presented with an unknown, spiky vegetable and a complete ignorance for what to do with it.
Naturally, it was served with a sauce laden with butter.
I remember the taste of that particular artichoke distinctly. There were notes of familiarity – of freshness and sweetness – and notes I didn’t especially warm to – a bitterness and a cleanliness, something almost grass like – at that point it time I wasn’t entirely sure it was for me.
It look me another decade or so before I approached them again.
Looking back I almost lament the loss of more than ten years of an artichoke-free diet.
Thanks to a trip to France – and a more refined palette – artichokes entered my life again three years ago.
And so it was that I found myself eagerly ordering a packet of green globe artichoke seeds.
Started in pots, they flourished and were in the vegetable beds within a matter of months.
That year, the globes began appearing in May and I found myself a little lost. I mean, by this point I liked eating them, but had no idea how to prepare them.
One thing’s for sure – they don’t exactly reveal their secrets for ease of preparation and cooking very easily. I was stumped.
Not only are they very spiky, they have a coarse, fibrous ‘choke’ nestled inside them.
Two parts of the vegetable can be eaten – the flesh within the leaves and the heart.
My artichokes were a thing of beauty but they weren’t to the scale of the bulbous, plump French specimens I’d had the privilege of devouring.
I decided there wasn’t enough body in the leaves to warrant boiling the artichoke as a whole, so that year we spent many an hour preparing raw artichokes, cutting away at them until we revealed their soft hearts.
These were then blanched before being grilled on the barbecue. The results were moreish, earthy and melted in your mouth thanks to the addition of the dipping sauce (laden with butter of course).
But, as much as I enjoyed them I wasn’t convinced that the labour of preparation balanced the results.
This year I set about with a difference tact.
They would be boiled in the traditional method – whole.
I harvested the first four globes – their leaves yet to unfurl – and brought them to a boil from a starting pan of cold water, simmering for 30 minutes or so until tender.
We ate them with a sesame oil dipping sauce.
I found myself sitting at the dining table diligently sucking every leaf dry before devouring the hearts.
I came up for air only when my plate was piled high with piles of spent leaves and trails of sauce oozing down my face and hands.
I will eat artichokes like this – with the same level of passion – until there are no more to be harvested.
Being a perennial they return year-after-year and if you let them go to seed they will flower spectacularly with fronds of purple pollen beloved by bees.
They’re packed with nutrients – they’re low in fat and rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Each medium thistle is packed with only 60 calories and four grams of protein.
Our crop with be expanded next year to include as many as I can possibly fit in the garden.
My life is full.