Friday, July 08, 2011

Heart of the (Artichoke) Matter

It's artichoke season at The Ranch.

J&R have a pretty nice artichoke patch in one of our orchards and the McC's have some nice plants growing in their zone. So why aren't there any artichokes on my plants? And why don't the others pick and eat theirs?

It can be a little discouraging when others have harvestable fruit and you have none, but I have plenty of wild artichokes and they can be a handful to deal with.

Most of mine grow in the front pasture, on the other side of the creek. It's an uncultivated pasture filled with wild things -- fennel, bristly ox-tongue, yellow mustard, tall grasses, things I know not the names of. You want to be in long pants -- I am sure there are ticks that would just love to pounce on you at the slightest hint of butric acid. Wild artichokes are way thornier than domesticated ones, so sturdy gloves are good, too.

It's a pain harvesting, but that's the easy part. Then, you have to cut away the thorny tips of the leaves, then boil them, then strip them down to the heart. The center is mostly gnarly choke. The tiny leaves have a small nib at the bottom that is so very tasty -- much nuttier than domesticated artichokes -- but you only get a tiny nibble out of each leaf. I guess you could set them out like beer nuts to nibble on while drinking, but it's the heart that you really want.

Last year, I froze the hearts but once frozen, they seem to lose their tastiness, so this year, I decided to marinate the hearts. It was a whole day affair, cleaning, boiling, stripping, paring and getting down to the heart of each tiny artichoke.

Are these wild artichokes really wild cardoons? I have no idea, but being the ever-curious Bad Dog, I also tried boiling the big spiny outer leaves to see if they were edible. Aaaaaagh! They are the most bitter thing in the world! (Now I read that you don't eat cardoon leaves but the ribs of the leaves and the inner stalks.)

The leaves of the artichoke, I sent through a blender and strained, for use in my wild artichoke soup (so green! so nutty! so creamy!) I think I really put my poor blender to the test -- she was starting to complain and I thought she'd quit on me before the last of the artichokes were processed. But at the end of the day, I had a nice tub of marinating artichoke hearts, unlike anything you have ever tasted, and a beautiful soup for dinner.

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