Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ode To The Artichoke: With Tender Heart

Late spring is the height of artichoke season in California and the coastal farms of the Monterey Peninsula are lined with endless rows of this silver leafed thistle. One of the world's oldest cultivated vegetables, the artichoke is thought to have originated in North Africa and was first propagated for human consumption on the island of Sicily.

With its sharp uninviting spines and tough outer leaves, one must assume that hunger and the ubiquity of the thistle were what inspired humans to experiment with artichokes as food.  Legend has it that the Roman Jews, when confined by papal decree in 1555 to the walled Ghetto, relied upon artichokes as a major source of affordable sustenance. Carciofi alla Giudia - "Jewish style artichokes"- remains to this day a beloved example of early Roman Jewish cuisine.

The strikingly surreal beauty of the artichoke is eloquently captured in the opening lines of a poem by the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda.

Ode To The Artichoke

"The artichoke
With tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales
It remained 

Oda A La Alcachofa

"La alcachofa
de tierno corazon
se vistio de guerrero,
erecta, construyo
una pequena cupula,
se mantuvo
sus escamas..."

More artichoke lore and simple instructions on how to steam artichokes may be found on the blog post entitled "Artichoke: An Ancient Thistle".