In this week's Martin & Sylvia: Saturdays! story, “Can't Wait To Wait,” Jonathan invites Martin and Sylvia to his birthday dinner at a French restaurant in town.
While many French foods may seem exotic or odd to American children, there are few foods anywhere that legitimately are as odd as an artichoke.
Artichokes are a species of Mediterranean thistle, and I always wonder about the first person who decided to eat one. While some parts of an artichoke are delicious, their prickly leaves and center must have been quite a challenge for some pre-historic, brave soul.
What we don't have to wonder about, though, is how artichokes eventually came to France.
As silly as it sounds, for a long time people thought that only men should eat artichokes. Lucky for us the “no artichokes for ladies” rule was one of many gender constraints that Catherine de Medici, a queen of France in the 16th century, loved to break.
She brought artichokes to France from her native Italy, and ate so many that she “liked to burst with them,” according to one contemporary. With the queen's endorsement, the popularity of artichokes spread through southern Europe, and eventually to California, where most artichokes are grown today.
But really, how do you eat an artichoke?
In addition to tough outer leaves, the bristly “choke” inside will literally leave you coughing and sputtering.
There are only two parts of an artichoke that are edible. The first is a tiny bit of tender flesh at the base of each leaf, which is best scraped off between your front teeth. The second is the heart, a tender disc buried underneath the fuzzy choke.
It’s a bit of work to get to the good parts, to be sure, but—dipped in a little melted butter or garlic-herb mayo — it's worth a bit of effort to enjoy this weird-but-delicious vegetable.
1-2 artichokes per person
Mayonnaise or melted butter for dipping
Find a bowl or pot large enough to hold all of your artichokes, and fill it about halfway with cold water. Squeeze the juice of the lemon into the water and discard the rind.
Cut off the lower stem of one artichoke, and then cut about an inch off of the top.
Use sharp kitchen shears to snip off the prickly tops of the rest of the lower leaves, then toss the artichoke in your prepared water. Repeat this process with the remaining artichokes.
Next, fit a large pot with a steamer basket. Place the artichokes in the basket, and pour over just enough of the lemon water that it comes up to the bottom of the artichokes. Put the pot on medium heat, cover with a lid, and bring the water to a boil.
The cooking time will depend on the size of your artichokes, but 30 minutes is a good baseline. The artichokes are done when you can easily pull a leaf from near the center.
To eat a steamed artichoke, pull off an outside leaf, dip the bottom edge in melted butter or mayonnaise, then scrape it between your teeth. Continue to work at the artichoke this way until you get to the fuzzy center. Use a spoon to remove all of the fuzz — trust me, you don’t want to eat even a single thread of that — then enjoy the meaty heart underneath.
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About the Author
The Sparkle Kitchen Series is created by Meryl Carver-Allmond.
Meryl lives in a hundred-year-old house near the prairie with her sweet husband, two preschoolers, one puppy, one gecko, and about ten chickens. While she's been writing since she could pick up a pen, in recent years she's discovered the joy of photography, too. She feels lucky to be able to combine those skills, along with a third passion — showing people that cooking for themselves can be healthy and fun — in her Sparkle Kitchen posts.