Artichokes are the hallmark of spring and brighter, warmer days ahead. When artichokes are in season, it is hard to escape them in restaurants and farmer’s markets. Have you ever dreamt of growing your own artichokes? It’s a lot easier to grow artichokes than you might expect. Although commonly thought of as a vegetable, artichokes are actually an edible cultivar of the thistle family. The part of the artichoke that we eat and enjoy is the bud of the thistle flower. The leaves cover the fuzzy and inedible choke which rests upon the edible part -the “heart.” If you are looking to grow artichokes in your garden, discover a new recipe, or just learn some more about the beloved thistle, keep reading!
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Fun Artichoke History
Artichokes have evoked awe and wonder for centuries. Artichokes have a decorated history that includes scandal and crime. In researching artichokes, I came across several interesting – to say the least – recent historical events that involve the beloved vegetable.
Martha Washington’s “Hartichoak Pie”
The fascination with artichokes was abundant in early United States history. Martha Washington carefully details how to make an artichoke pie in her famous “Book of Cookery.” Would you try this recipe today?
“To Make an Hartichoak Pie:
Take 12 hartychoak bottoms yt are good & large, after you have boyled them, take them cleere from ye leaves & cores, season them with a little pepper & salt & lay them on a coffin of paste, with a pound of butter & ye marrow of 2 bones in bigg pieces, then close it up to set in ye oven, then put halfe a pound of sugar to halfe a pinte of verges & some powder of cinnamon and ginger – boyle these together & when ye pie is halfe baked put the liquor in & set it in ye oven againe till it be quite bak’d.” – Mrs. Washington’s “Book of Cookery” pg. 439
“The Artichoke King”
In the 1920’s and 1930’s, Ciro Terranova, a member of the alleged “Mob,” ran a monopoly on artichokes. Back then and even to this day, nearly all commercially grown artichokes in the United States are from California. Terranova would purchase all of the imported artichokes, turning them for an alleged 40% profit. It is said that during his monopoly on the crop, “The Artichoke King” was raking in a million dollars a year. To protect his monopoly Terranova went to great lengths – threatening distributors and local merchants. He went so far as to chop down artichoke plants at competing farms in the middle of the night. Due to the monopoly and the ensuing violence to protect the cash crop, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia imposed a ban on artichokes. The ban on “the sale, display and possession” of artichokes only lasted a week after LaGuardia admitted his love for artichokes.
In the United States, artichokes are most commonly grown in California. Castroville, a coastal city in Monterey County, is the epicenter of commercial artichoke growing. The city has hosted an Artichoke Festival for over 60 years. The festival celebrates artichokes prepared in traditional and new unique ways.
Where Artichokes Grow Best
Artichokes are best grown in damp weather, with cool summer temperatures and mild winters. They are primarily grown commercially in California. Artichokes are perennials that can survive for up to 6 years in mild-winter areas. In areas that experience frost, artichokes can be grown as an annual.
Recommended Varieties of Artichoke to Grow
There are over 140 varieties of artichokes but only a dozen are popularly grown.
My favorite variety to grow, and the one I recommend to anyone that will hear me, is “Green Globe.” I’ve had great success growing this variety over the years. Green Globe is an heirloom variety that produces large spherical artichoke heads. Other well known varieties include, but are not limited to: Emerald, Grand Beurre, Harmony, Imperial Star, and Purple Sicilian.
Starting Artichokes From Seed
A cost effective way to grow your own artichokes is from seed. To start artichokes from seed, you can either start indoors or plant directly in the ground. In either scenario, the soil temperature will need to be at least 70 degrees for the seed to germinate. Plant artichoke seeds approximately 1/4 inch deep either in nursery pots or directly in ground. Plant two seeds per pot or hole. The seeds should germinate in less than 3 weeks. Keep your planting medium moist at all times and thin seedlings to one plant per pot or every 2-3 feet. If starting indoors, begin to harden off the seedlings slowly by bringing them outside during the day as the weather allows. Once your seedlings have been completely hardened off, it is time to transplant.
To plant artichoke starts, either from the nursery or started from seed, you must first prepare your planting area. Make sure to clear out any weeds or unwanted plants from the area. Make sure the soil is loose and well- draining. Dig a hole to fit your artichoke start. Plant artichoke transplants approximately 2 to 3 feet apart. Artichokes should be planted in the ground in early fall if you are in an area that does not experience frost. If you are in an area that does experience frost, plant out artichoke seedlings as soon as your last chance of frost has passed. Once planted, add some compost at the base of the artichoke plant. Apply a nice layer of mulch, such as shredded cedar, to ensure moisture retention and weed suppression. Water the newly planted artichokes well. If planted in early fall, you should begin harvesting artichokes in the spring.
Artichoke Routine Maintenance
- Watering: Ensure your artichokes plants get at least 1-3 deep waterings a week. Artichokes need a lot of water to ensure that it forms artichoke buds.
- Fertilizing: Fertilize your artichoke plants with an organic fertilizer, compost or worm casting mix every month during the growing seasons (early spring and early fall.)
- Frost: If you have an unexpected frost is in the forecast, you can apply a thick layer of mulch or straw to your artichoke growing area.
- Heat: Artichokes benefit from cool, damp weather. If you are in an area that gets infrequent heat waves, you can utilize a shade cloth to protect your plants. If high temperatures are sustained, your artichoke plant will not produce any buds and will go dormant.
- Weeds: Keep the area around your artichokes free of weeds or unwanted plants. To suppress weeds, use mulch.
- Pruning: At the end of the growing season, when all of the buds have been harvested, prune your artichoke plant. To prune the artichoke plant, remove any spent leaves and stalks.
- Mulching: Utilize mulch for your artichoke plants to suppress weeds, retain moisture, and maintain cool soil temperature. Some cities offer free mulch pick-up. If you are in Los Angeles, see this website: free mulch.
- Life span: In areas with mild winters, artichoke plants can last up to 6 years. Plan on phasing out your older crops with freshly planted artichokes.
Managing Pests and Diseases When Growing Artichokes
Diseases and Pests
Some of the diseases that may plague your artichoke plants include, but are not limited to: powdery mildew, curly dwarf, bacterial crown rot, and root rot. Some of the most common pests that you may encounter when growing artichokes include plume moths, aphids, weevils, spider mites, and pincher bugs. If you are trying to identify the disease or pest that is afflicting your artichoke plant, consult the University of California Agriculture Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program. On this website, they detail all of the different diseases and pests that may harm your artichoke plant and how to manage each issue. In most cases, they either suggest an organic solution such as neem oil or culling the affected areas of the plant.
How to Harvest Artichokes
When is the right time to harvest an artichoke? Depending on the variety, harvest an artichoke when the head measure at least 3-6 inches across or is firm when squeezed. In most varieties, the artichoke may produce some offshoots that are much smaller. Harvest the small buds when they are firm when squeezed.
The Many Ways To Eat Artichokes
Not only are artichokes incredibly beautiful to look at, they are super delicious. There are so many ways to prepare artichokes – appetizers, beverages and salads, there are tons of ways to enjoy this magnificent thistle.
Artichokes as an Aperitif, “Cynar”
A not very well known way of consuming artichokes is in the form of aperitif. An aperitif is typically consumed as a pre-meal imbibement, meant to stimulate the palette. Some commonly consumed aperitifs include: champagne, negroni, gin and tonic, and spritzes. There is a lesser known Italian aperitif called Cynar and is an amaro made from steeping grappa, artichoke leaves, and a variety of other botanicals. The taste is similar to espresso.
To make your own Cynar: steep 10 muddled artichoke leaves, citrus zest, and other botanicals in one liter of grappa for a month. After steeping, filter the solids out. You can then add brown sugar or another sweetener.
To enjoy Cynar, you can simply serve over ice with soda water. You can also craft a stronger cocktail by combining with tequila and serving it straight up.
Just recently, I was able to enjoy a “Cynar Spritz” at Eataly. It was a refreshing beverage on a hot day.
Artichokes Deep Fried, “Jewish Artichokes”
“Jewish Artichokes” or in Italian, “Carciofi alla Giudia” is another way to prepare and enjoy artichokes. The method of cooking artichokes this way is by frying the artichoke heart. With this method, you can use either use large or baby artichokes. Using a paring knife, carefully trim all the leaves to reveal the light green leaves and heart. It should look like a rose. The artichokes are then fried in oil until tender and then fried again at a higher temperature until brown and crispy. Carciofi alla Giudia is typically served with fresh lemon wedges
Grilled artichokes are a hallmark of late spring meals. The process to successfully grill an artichoke however, is two fold. If you are using mature artichokes (as opposed to baby artichokes), you need to par-cook the artichokes first before grilling. Cut the artichokes in half. You can either boil or steam the artichokes similar to the previous recipes. You will just reduce the cooking time so the artichokes are not quite soft or cooked all the way through. Grill the par-cooked artichokes, cut side down, for about 10 minutes or until the artichokes have distinct grill marks. To add a variety of flavor you can either add herbs and spices during the par-cook step or spread an herb infused oil prior to grilling.
Raw Artichoke Salad
A lesser known way of enjoying artichokes is raw. To prepare a raw artichoke “salad” remove the out leaves and delicately trim the artichoke to reveal the heart. With a spoon, gently remove the inedible choke hairs. Place the hearts in a bowl of water and lemon juice to prevent the hearts from oxidizing. To assemble the salad, thinly slice the hearts. A mandoline makes this a little easier. Toss the sliced artichokes with arugula, olive oil, salt and pepper. Dress this salad up or down, it is a perfect meal for Spring! Check out my TikTok where I made this salad for Easter brunch.
The most common way to eat artichokes is steamed. To steam artichoke, I cut about 1/2 an inch off the top of the artichoke. Cut the stem as well so the artichoke can sit flat in your pot. Gently spread the petals out. Place the artichokes in a dutch oven. You can add herbs and other aromatic elements to the pot as well. Fill the pot with water until is reaches about 3/4 the way up the artichoke. Put a tight fitting lit on top. Either cook on stovetop, in the oven, or on the grill until the stem is easily pierced with a paring knife. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce such as butter, mayonnaise or olive oil and balsamic vinegar. In this TikTok I show briefly how I make steamed artichokes on the grill.
Artichoke Tea, “Nuoc Mat”
Another lesser known form of enjoying artichokes is in the form of tea. Although new to me, artichoke tea has been consumed in Vietnam for a long time. In Vietnam, artichoke tea with pandan leaves is called “Nuoc Mat.” To enjoy artichoke tea, steep artichoke leaves in boiling water. You can serve it either hot or chilled. Some people prefer to add sweeteners as you would with any other tea. Artichoke tea is one healthy way of getting the beneficial minerals and nutrients of artichokes without all the preparation and accoutrements of preparing the artichoke head.
Although artichokes are typically available year round, they typically peak in production in spring and fall. You may want to preserve artichokes for the less productive times of the year. Or, you may want to process your artichoke harvest glut during peak harvest time. Artichokes are most commonly preserved in oil. Preserving foods, especially those that are low acid, should always be approached with care. Always check with a professional food safety source before preserving and canning your own food. To preserve artichokes in oil, you remove the leaves, revealing the heart. The artichoke hearts are then soaked in lemon water to prevent oxidation. The artichoke hearts are boiled in a vinegar solution and strained. In a jar, add the boiled artichoke hearts and other herbs and spices such as peppercorns and bay leaves. Fill the jar up with oil and process in a canning bath. The artichoke hearts are left to cure in the oil for 1 month before consuming. Again, always always consult a reputable professional food safety source before canning your own food. This part of the article is to merely serve as inspiration for the wide world of artichokes and their benefits and uses.
Nutritional Benefits of Artichokes
Artichokes are rich in fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium and Vitamin C. According to Women’s Health, they are high in protein, fiber, and polyphenols. One serving of a medium artichoke has about 3.5 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber. With so many ways to eat artichokes, it is easy and worthwhile to add this nutritious vegetable to your next meal.
Other Uses for Artichokes
Artichoke leaves can be used to make a beautiful sage-green natural dye. There are not a lot of resources readily available that describe how to make the perfect artichoke natural dye. As with most dyes, take the artichoke leaves and petals and steep them in warm water to extra the pigment. Additives such as baking soda or iron can be added to alter the color.
When artichokes are left unharvested, they produce a beautiful purple flower. The flower can be used for floral arrangements. Or you can simply leave the flower in your garden, bees and other pollinators love artichoke flowers.
Saving Artichoke Seeds
I love to save seeds from my garden to share with others. It is a cost effective way to share a piece of your garden with friends and family. To save artichoke seeds, let the flower fully open and mature. The flower will eventually begin to turn brown and look dead. At that time, cut off the flower and leave about 3 inches of the stem intact. Place the flower in a paper bag. Let the flower completely dry out in a cool, dry, and dark place. When the flower is completely dry, the seeds should fall right out. Store seeds in seed pouches like this – and make sure to label them!
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