Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Artichokes from 1699-1938.

I don’t believe I have covered artichokes in any great detail to date – which is a bit shameful after more than nine years-worth of blog posts, don’t you think?  I am going to take the easy way out as far as outlining the history and use of the artichoke goes: I am going to give you two pieces of text written over two hundred years apart, and together they will tell you just about everything that you need to know about this interesting  vegetable.

The first piece is from the famous English horticulturalist John Evelyn’s work Acetaria: A discourse of Sallets, published in 1699. The artichoke was at that time a relatively new delicacy from Italy.

Artichaux, Cinara, (Carduus Sativus) hot and dry. The Heads being slit in quarters first eaten raw, with Oyl, a little Vinegar, Salt, and Pepper, gratefully recommend a Glaſs of Wine; Dr. Muffet ſays, at the end of Meals.
They are likewise, whilst tender and small, fried in fresh Butter crisp with Perſley. But then become a most delicate and excellent Reſtorative, when full grown, they are boil'd the common way. The Bottoms are also bak'd in Pies, with Marrow, Dates, and other rich Ingredients: In Italy they sometimes broil them, and as the Scaly Leaves open, baste them with fresh and sweet Oyl; but with Care extraordinary, for if a drop fall upon the Coals, all is marr'd; that hazard escap'd, they eat them with the Juice of Orange and Sugar.
The Stalk is Blanch'd in Autumn, and the Pith eaten raw or boil'd. The way of preserving them fresh all Winter, is by separating the Bottoms from the Leaves, and after Parboiling, allowing to every Bottom, a small earthen glaz'd Pot; burying it all over in fresh melted Butter, as they do Wild-Fowl, &c. Or if more than one, in a larger Pot, in the same Bed and Covering, Layer upon Layer.
They are also preſerv'd by stringing them on Pack-thread, a clean Paper being put between every Bottom, to hinder them from touching one another, and so hung up in a dry place. They are likewise Pickl'd.
'Tis not very long since this noble Thistle came first into Italy, Improv'd to this Magnitude by Culture; and so rare in England, that they were commonly sold for Crowns a piece: But what Carthage yearly spent in them (as Pliny computes the Sum) amounted to Seſtertia Sena Millia, 30000 l. Sterling.
Note, That the Spanish Cardon, a wild and smaller Artichoak, with sharp pointed Leaves, and lesser Head; the Stalks being Blanch'd and tender, are serv'd-up a la Poiverade (that is with Oyl, Pepper, &c.) as the French term is.

We jump to the first half of the twentieth century, to the regular radio program Homemakers’ Chat, from the Bureau of Home Economics, United States Department of Agriculture. I give you the script for the program on Friday, December 2, 1938, was A Flower Bud That's Good to Eat – which happens to provide our recipe for the day.

Today I have some news for you about a flower - a flower bud that's good to eat. You've probably seen it in the grocery stores lately — nestled alongside the carrots and the cabbages. Of course, I'm talking about artichokes — the kind they call globe artichokes. And the news I have about them comes from the United States Department of Agriculture by way of a press release.
But first, before I say any more, I'd like to get straight on these artichoke names. I'm talking about globe artichokes, — not Jerusalem artichokes. For Jerusalem artichokes are something entirely different from a flower bud. They grow underground and look something like small, gnarled potatoes.
And another thing, the globe artichoke has several other names. Maybe you call it the French artichoke. Or you may know it as a bur artichoke. Or you may even refer to it jokingly as an "educated thistle.”
Well, call it what you like — French, bur, or globe artichoke — it's still something good to eat. It's the flower bud of a plant distantly related to the ordinary thistle. It's green in color and shaped like a cone — with a round, broad base and a pointed top. Usually an artichoke is about as big as a very large apple. It has many petal-like parts called scales. And these scales are fairly broad at the base of the artichoke — then taper off to a point at the top.
There, now that I've described and labelled what I mean when I speak of a globe artichoke, here's my news item — about the supply this year. According to the men who keep books on the crops of the nation, the artichoke growers in California planted about as many acres to them this season as they did last. And California is the only state that grows enough artichokes to ship them commercially.
Here are a few suggestions that may help you shop for globe artichokes.
"Just as any other flower bud, the globe artichoke shows its quality in its color and its outward appearance. One that's topnotch will have tightly clinging, fleshy leaf scales of a good green color. It will be compact and therefore heavy for its size. An artichoke that's discolored, or is brownish, or has dark spots on it, will turn black when it is cooked.
"As soon as the bud starts to get old, the scales spread out and the tips of them become hard. These over-mature artichokes may also have centers that are fuzzy, and that are a dark pink or purple in color. When they are cooked they'll have a strong flavor."

With shopping over, the next problem is the cooking — not that this is really a problem. For artichokes are one of the easiest of all vegetables to prepare.
"First, wash the artichokes in cold water and trim off the stems. Remove some of the outer leaves. Trim off a little of the top. Then drop the artichokes into lightly salted "boiling water to cover. Simmer them for 20 to 30 minutes. To see if the artichoke is done, pull on one of the scales. If the scale comes out easily, the bud is usually cooked enough."
The serving of artichokes is just as simple as the cooking . One bud ordinarily makes an individual serving. Serve each one on a plate separate from the rest of the meal — even as a separate course if you like. And you may serve them either hot or cold.
If you like them hot , give each person a small dish of melted butter, or drawn butter sauce, or Hollandaise sauce to dip the scales in as he eats them. If you serve artichokes cold , give each person a small dish of French or mayonnaise dressing.
And now, if I were talking about most anything else, I'd stop. But since we're on the subject of artichokes I want to read you something I saw in print the other day about eating artichokes.
"Memorable to many a person is the first time he ever ate a globe artichoke cooked and served whole. Usually the first reaction is a feeling of social uncertainty, a wondering just what to do with the dark green "flower" set before one on the plate — whether to attack it with knife, fork, or fingers. But this uneasiness soon disappears, gives way to enjoyment.
"An artichoke really is not so formidable as it looks at first. At the bottom of each scale is a small, lighter portion, good for eating. The green part of the scale is Nature's handle for manipulating the eatable part into the sauce and from there to the mouth. On the scales near the center, the eatable part gets larger. After the scales are all removed comes what to many is the climax. It is only a small matter to scrape off with a knife the beardy part of "choke" to get to the artichoke bottom or heart. This part should be cut in small pieces and each piece dipped into the sauce."

And that's all the artichoke information I have for today. But just as a final reminder—this is a good time of the year to eat globe artichokes. For they come to market in greatest abundance from the middle of October to the middle of April.


Anonymous said...

Love, love, love artichokes.

Something I didn't notice mentioned in any of the articles was frostbite. 'Chokes are at their sweetest when they've been subjected to a freeze while still growing. This puts a bit of a papery brown-ish blush on the 'scales', and that is the sign of the best tasting artichokes, as the frost concentrates their sugars and makes them all the sweeter.

Danielle Costa said...

"Educated Thistle" is my new band name. And possibly the title of my memoirs some day.