Artichokes – edible and beautiful

Ever thought about growing globe artichokes? An interesting plant, this one: it’s actually a member of the daisy family, although it is also a close family member of the thistle. In fact, if you leave it to grow and don’t harvest the flowers, as we did last year, it will develop & open to reveal a beautiful thistle-like fuzzy centre.

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Historically, the globe artichoke has been around for awhile: it’s been cultivated since Roman times and has been grown across Europe since the 16th century. Back then, it was thought to have strong aphrodisiac properties – we’re not so convinced of this aspect of the artichoke, but make your own mind up.

As well as being a fantastic architectural addition to the garden with its arching jagged leaves on strong stalks, the globe artichoke is delicious to eat. Unlike many other foods we treat as vegetables, the flower buds are the edible part of this plant. These can be eaten when very small but develop a deeper flavour as they grow to near-maturity. After steaming or boiling for around 30 minutes, peel a ‘petal’ (they’re really bracts, for those of you that care about such things) from the outside & dip it in the sauce of your choice (we like warm butter or vinaigrette best, but Hollandaise is traditional too) & scrape the soft flesh off the base of the petal with your teeth. Once you’ve eaten all of the petals, remove the furry “choke” to reveal the edible “heart” at the base of the plant. Be thorough when removing the choke – the fluffy bits can be difficult to swallow, there’s a reason it’s called the choke! Unlike many vegetables, the artichoke is one then benefits from a little more cooking than less. If you don’t cook them for long enough, the artichoke remains tough to eat and quite bitter tasting, so give it a few extra minutes if you’re in any doubt.

Growing Globe Artichokes

Globe artichokes enjoy soil that is well drained, fertile and bordering on being light. However, if the soil becomes too light, the artichoke heads will be smaller, so it is advisable to add organic material (compost, manure, you know the drill) to the ground in order to prevent this from happening. They also prefer to be sheltered from heavy winds, and do better (including being more flavourful) in a sunny spot.

Here in the UK, it’s more usual to grow artichokes using small plants but they can also be grown from seed. Either way, the seeds or plants should be planted in early spring, in rows that are about 40 cm apart. You won’t need many artichokes, as even one or two can produce a good amount of artichokes, plus they are quite large plants so you may not have much room to squeeze more than a couple in. If your vegetable plot hasn’t got room for them, consider planting them in a flower border: they’re pretty darn decorative as well as delicious.

Artichokes are periennials, and usually you will not get globes until the second summer after planting, but occasionally the plant will produce a few small globes the first season. Our larger, more flourishing plants produced a few flowerheads in their first year, with more (& larger) flowers the following year. Other, less substantial plants seem to have taken a few years before producing decent crops. And remember, the more you pick, the more the plant will produce.

 

We don’t always manage to eat all of our artichoke crop, especially the ones later in the season that we fear might be too tough. The unused flower heads dry very well: we have a big glass vase filled with some sprayed in metallic tones.

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