The globe artichoke was hard for me to classify. But the artichoke is unique among the food plants in that the part we eat is the base of the unopened flower bud—and the top of the bud's stem (aha!). Its closest (and only) edible relative is the cardoon, an edible stalk (second aha!). And you can also eat artichoke sprouts like asparagus (third aha!). So I listed it here.
The globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus) is a semihardy thistle variety that does nicely in California but not in Idaho. Globe artichokes have the reputation of being a difficult plant to grow. A perennial, thriving artichoke can be 5 feet high and 5 feet wide. Lane Morgan: "It's not a very defensible use of garden space—that huge plant for this exquisite little treat—but they are unbelievably good."
CLIMATE: The artichoke-growing center of the United States is Castroville, about 100 miles south of San Francisco, where fields of artichokes stretch literally mile after mile. Old-time varieties of globe artichoke hate cold and cannot normally be grown where there are ever zero-degree temperatures. They also don't grow to their full 5 x 5-foot size if winters are too cold or summers too hot for their systems. They do best in southern coastal areas with mild weather both in winter and in summer. If you live in a climate where artichokes are natural perennials, consider growing 5 plots of them, starting one in each of 5 consecutive years. After 5 years of production, you dig out those particular plants, refertilize, and start over. But some gardeners in colder areas have to grow them as an annual, using recently developed, hardier, quicker-maturing varieties that will bear the first year. And that can work too. soil: Artichokes don't thrive in heavy, clay soils. They need some sand and lots of humus. Like asparagus, globe artichokes are "heavy feeders" and will thrive according to how much manure or compost was mixed in with their soil to start with. They'll even take fresh chicken manure and love it. A lightly manured artichoke may live and bear pretty well for 3 or 4 years, although the buds it produces may be smaller each year. If you really load the manure on it, the plant might go to 6 years of production. Planting Suckers: In California globe artichokes are perennials that are planted by cutting off and planting suckers. If you have a choice, don't save your own artichoke seed. Instead, use the system of transplanting sprouts (suckers). Six plants are enough for an average-sized family. You can buy dormant roots or young plants from California nurseries, or take starts off your own or a friend's artichoke. To do that, you plant the side shoots that come up from the base of the old plants. These are like sprouts, are called "suckers," and grow in the spring, from 2 to 20 per mature plant. (You can cut and eat them like asparagus if you don't want to use them to start new artichoke plants!) When the suckers are about a foot high, they're ready to take. Dig away the soil from the parent plant's crown. When you cut off each sucker, take a portion of the plant roots with it. Cut off the larger outer leaves. For best results, replant immediately. Transplant suckers, or plants grown from seeds or purchased from a nursery, as described below. If you plant suckers rather than seed, you may get a first-year crop, though buds are typically small. Planting Seed: You can plant seed, but it won't bear much fruit the first year unless you have a new variety, the "annual artichoke," from Territorial. A further problem with artichoke seeds is that their offspring frequently revert to the thistle side of their heredity, so a certain percentage of them won't produce well for you. But they're the cheapest way to get started. Start seed indoors or in a greenhouse in February to mid-March in individual 3-inch pots. Six to 8 weeks later, when they have 3 or 4 leaves apiece, it's time to transplant them to your garden.
Transplanting: Place them 24 inches apart, hilled like squash, in rows 3 feet apart. Supply 1 c. concentrated fertilizer or 1 shovelful chicken manure, well worked into the hill of soil, before the transplanting. Keep them well watered. A frost will destroy young buds, though more will develop. If you have a blazing rather than a mild summer, on the other hand, you will need to use 8 to 12 inches of mulch and some shading system, in addition to the generous watering, at least until they are well started. Or you can plant suckers; they'll get going faster and bear the first year. wintering: If you're in a subtropical zone, wintering will be no problem, but if your zone is marginal, it will require special attention. After the growing season is over, thin to your very best plants, about 1 every 4 feet. Cut plant off about 6 inches above the ground. Gardeners argue a lot about what to do next.
Mulch. Every northern artichoke grower has a favorite system—which may or may not work. In general, you cover the remaining stem with something, such as a mound of straw and then sheets of plastic over that. Or a mound of straw, covered by a layer of leaves, which is covered by a layer of dirt, which is covered by a basket. The nifty trick is that they need to be kept warm but they also need air. If you do this and your climate or your winter is only marginally cold, you might luck out and have a perennial artichoke. In the spring, remove the basket or plastic. The artichoke will come right up through the mulch on its own. Dormant Root. Where the ground freezes solid, try creating dormant roots. Leave them in the ground until hard frost is forecast. Then dig the roots up carefully, cut the leaves back to an inch or two of the crown, and brush off loose dirt. Wrap the roots in something organic that allows air circulation—such as burlap. Store in a dry place at about 33-40°F Plant in the spring using the directions for transplanting.
harvesting: You will be able to harvest annual artichokes during August and September. An individual plant will produce from 2 to 20 artichokes per season. Lane Morgan says: "When you grow your own, you have the wherewithal for dishes that shoppers never see. If you pick the chokes just bigger than egg-sized, you can slice them straight down the middle lengthwise and saute them like that. There's none of that thistly stuff in the middle."
The mature artichoke bud resembles a large scaly head, like the cone of a pine tree; it grows on the top of a long stalk (the flower stalk). Get the buds when they have finished growing but before they flower (open). What you are going to eat is the flower bud before it opens. If in doubt, cut too young. If you wait too long and the bud starts to open, the inside gets woody. Harvest faithfully, because if you keep taking the buds off so that no seed can form, the plants will continue to produce until the end of the season. It's handy to leave 1 or 2 inches of stem on the artichoke at this stage. Buds that mature in the hottest part of the summer are tougher than those that come before and after that heat. Preparing and Preserving: Pull off the tough outer leaves. Cut off the prickly top with scissors. The edible portion is the thickened base of each scale and the bottom/center/core to which the leaflike scales are attached. That bottom center, or "heart," is the most tender and delicious part of the artichoke. Basic rule on hearts: Soak them in lemon juice and water. Otherwise they turn dark. You can store fruits in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks if you must delay using them. Angelo Pellegrini's cookbook has good instructions on handling garden-grown artichokes and recipes for them. Freezing. First pull away the outer leaves until you reach light yellow or white ones that are free of all green (same if you're going to freeze them). Then cut off the top of the bud and trim to a cone shape. Wash in cold water and keep under water with a plate on top to hold them under until all your hearts have been trimmed. Add l/i c. bottled lemon juice and water to cover. Boil 5 minutes and freeze (or pickle as in next paragraph).
Canned, Pickled Artichokes. Follow directions for freezing in preceding paragraph. For your pickling solution, mix in a pan 2 c. olive or salad oil, Vh c. white vinegar (5 percent), 1 T. oregano leaves, 1 T. dried basil leaves, and 1 T. canning or pickling salt. Stir in lh c. finely chopped onion and c. diced pimento (optional) and heat to boiling. (You can expand this recipe—double, triple, etc.—as needed.) Place % garlic clove and 2 to 3 peppercorns in each half-pint jar.
Fill the half-pint jars with artichoke hearts. Pour over them your hot, well-mixed oil-vinegar solution. Leave xh inch headspace. Adjust lids and use boiling-water bath processing: Process in half-pints only. At up to 1,000 feet above sea level, process 20 minutes; at 1,001-3,000 feet, 25 minutes; 3,001-6,000 feet, 30 minutes; and above 6,000 feet, 35 minutes.
Eating an Artichoke: Your first priority is to carefully distinguish between the edible parts and the nonedible parts. They're very close! Remember the thistle heritage! When the artichoke is very young and tender, the edible parts can be eaten raw as a salad. When it becomes hard, as it does very quickly, it must be cooked. Hearts can be cut up for a salad or stewed and served with a sauce.
<i> BOILED WHOLE ARTICHOKE Boil with 2 T. lemon juice until you can easily remove a leaf After boiling, drain upside down and then serve. One artichoke per person, served on a saucer or in a bowl, is about right. It's nicest to provide a little individual container of melted butter or mayonnaise at each plate for that dipping. The eater pulls scales with the fingers one by one from the cooked head. The thickened base of each scale is dipped in a sauce and then eaten by dragging it through your clenched teeth to scrape off the soft good part from the tough upper part ci> OTHER ARTICHOKE SAUCES These are good on cold artichoke hearts: French salad dressing, Hollandaise sauce, or mayonnaise seasoned with lemon juice and mustard.
FRIED ARTICHOKES AND MUSHROOMS Fried artichoke hearts go well with mushrooms. Use I part sliced mushrooms and I part sliced artichoke hearts. Season with salt and garlic powder and bake in a baking dish about 20 minutes.
ci> RUTH'S VEGAN ARTICHOKES For a tastier product with nutrients intact steam instead of boiling. When done cooking but still hot dribble lemon juice all over. Then you can eat plain or with a sauce of mustard, lemon juice, and rice milk. Or eat with a handful of ground nuts or seeds mixed with lemon juice and blended to dip consistency.
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