Artichokes are from the Mediterranean region. It is thought that they were discovered in North Africa and then cultivated in Southern Europe. We eat the flower buds, rather than leaves, fruit or roots. There are two main kinds – green and purple – I grow both and they really are pretty much the same. If you leave them, they turn into glorious bright purple blooms, like giant thistles. My sister actually grows hers in her flower borders, not in the veggie patch. The grey foliage is really spectacular. I always leave one or two at the end of the season to flower, but that is all I can manage as they are so delicious.
Our favourite way of eating them is simple. Boiled in water with salt and lemon and served in a bowl with lemon butter. We like to pick each petal off the flower and scrape the meaty bit off with our teeth. This means eating lunch takes a long time. Perfect for a lazy summer afternoon in the shade with cold wine. The extra garlicky lemon butter (or olive oil) is mopped up with a bit of bread. You could dip them in aioli, flavoured yoghurt or hollandaise. If you eat them before they get old, the choke in the centre won’t have developed yet and the whole thing is edible. When they are really plump (like the first picture), you will have to scrape the hairy choke out with a teaspoon – not too difficult. At this stage the heart of the flower is usually very meaty and certainly worth the effort.
As there are so many this year, we are going to try a few different recipes too. Last year I made a stew with broad beans, peas and mint (also plentiful at the moment) which was lovely. I’d like to try an artichoke risotto with some of the little ones. Also came across a recipe for whole baby artichokes cooked in oil, which I am definately going to make this week. Rub young, tender artichokes with lemon and put salt and pepper between their leaves. Then soak them in olive oil and place in a saucepan with cold water to cover. Boil rapidly for 20 minutes. Eat the whole thing, with the extra hot oil poured over them.
Apparently the plants can live for 15 years, although mine seem to sucker and make a new plant beside the old one every year or so. They are greedy feeders, so it is really worth digging a very deep hole before you plant them and filling it with compost and well rotted manure. They also like to be watered in winter. Mine have survived (thrived) on a bucket or two of bath water every week. Each year my artichoke patch increases in size. They are one of those vegetables that are really worth growing. Easy to cultivate and best eaten freshly picked. Plant some as soon as you can and next year you’ll be lazing under a tree with a bowl of them too.