When I started “the artichoke experiment” my knowledge of artichokes was sketchy at best. I did know there were two types of artichoke, the Jerusalem and the Globe. I eventually found out that Globe artichokes are related to the thistle family and produce large purple flowers if left on the plant, and in contrast, Jerusalem artichokes grow underground.
It was only a couple of years ago that Mum, my brother and I first tried a globe artichoke. It had been preserved in oil and was presented as a pizza topping. I was surprised that none of us had ever tried artichokes before. We have yet to try a Jerusalem artichoke.
Artichokes have been a mystery to us for sometime. So I decided to do an experiment. Last year, I bought a seedling Globe artichoke and presented it to Mum to plant in her garden. I had no idea how large the plant gets, but Mum did and she had some trepidation about planting it in her small garden. Overall, the experiment has gone well. The plant did need tying up often as the long leaves flop over and the bottom leaves are prone to breaking off. They need a fair bit of room as the leaves are long and spiky. They have a colouration of what looks like pale whitish frost on the surface of the leaf and this is a furry covering (which hasn’t shown up in the following photo, but the size and shape of the leaf is there). Climate plays a large part in the plants health. The long leaves are weak at the stem, so lots of rain or high winds do the most damage, but it did survive a few frosts. As the weather heats up, they need lots of water as the leaves droop and the plant looks sad very quickly. Mum has hers in a pot, so it needs more water than if it was planted in the ground, and it needs watering several times a day on hot days. They prefer cooler climates.
The experiment has turned out to be a trial of patience. It has taken just over a year from planting the seedling, to harvesting the first Globe artichoke.
When we started out, we had no idea how long the plant would take to produce a bud. We had even less of an idea of when to harvest it, or even how to cook it, or even how to begin to eat it as the spiky outer leaves looked daunting.
But last weekend after visiting the local Farmers’ Market (see previous blog) we realised our artichoke was a similar size to those for sale. Mum and I inspected our artichoke bud and after comparing it to what we had seen at the market, judged it ready to pick. The time from first seeing the small artichoke bud, to harvesting was surprisingly short. I estimate that it must have only been two weeks for the artichoke fruit to grow to 17 cm circumference around the widest part. I was completely unprepared for harvesting so soon. Because the artichoke plant had taken a year to produce a bud, I expected the bud would take a few months to grow, giving me plenty of time to research what to do with it.
While at the Market, we also received instructions on how to cook the artichoke. A lovely helpful lady told us to boil the artichoke for 20 minutes and to check it was cooked by poking a knife into the piece where the stem attaches to the artichoke. Then to pull off the leaves and dip them in butter and eat the small fleshy part of the leaf.
Armed with these instructions, we washed the artichoke and removed the stem. We placed it in a pot of boiling water with half a teaspoon of salt. Not long after, the water turned green (the colour of water after asparagus has been boiled in it), and a fragrant smell, of cooking greens (kind of like cabbage or spinach) was released. After 20 minutes, we checked the artichoke was cooked by poking a sharp knife into the top of the stem/base of the artichoke. The base was soft, so we drained off the water.
We pulled off the outside leaves and dipped each one into melted butter and ate the tiny fleshy part at the base of the leaf, the rest of the leaf is fibrous and tough. We also tried lemon juice with the butter. Aioli and vinegar are also choices. It seems extravagant peeling off leaves and only nibbling a small portion and we had a pile of wastage.
We continued pulling off leaves and the further towards the centre of the artichoke, the leaves became more tender. We could eat half the leaf, but the taste was less distinct than the outer leaves. Further in again, we could eat the whole leaf and the artichoke was like a furled up rose bud. It was a bit like the game ‘pass the parcel’, unwrapping each layer.
We had also consulted Mum’s trusty French cookery course books, Cordon Bleu, to check we were on the right track. They had a bigger artichoke (maybe a different variety) and had cut the tips off the leaves, but maybe this is only done on the larger examples. I am still not sure what is the ‘heart’ and what is the ‘choke’, or what the ‘fond’ is that is referred to in the book. So artichokes still retain a few mysteries for us yet.
This is the first time that Mum and I have tried an artichoke ‘au naturel’ as Mum described it – just boiled in the pot with no preservatives such as oil.
We have two new buds on the same plant appearing, and I found out that the plants can last 3-4 years. I hadn’t counted on this, so Mum will have the plant around for some time yet. Plenty of time to experiment with more artichokes. Next time I will leave the bud longer to see how this changes the structure inside the artichoke, and how it affects flavour.
I am glad that we have tried this experiment and for my next experiment…… I am growing Edamame Beans.*
*Bought from the Farmers’ Market and mentioned in the previous blog.