2017-11-02 / From The Garden

Artichokes and Cardoons Dazzle for Fall

By Cynthia Gibson


The cousin to the artichoke, the cardoon is grown for its edible stalks, much like celery. But unlike artichokes the flower bud is not eaten. The cousin to the artichoke, the cardoon is grown for its edible stalks, much like celery. But unlike artichokes the flower bud is not eaten. The end of October and the beginning of November are the best time for the last of the artichokes to be picked and eaten. Artichokes are now a typical fall vegetable found in the supermarket. They are a show-stopper in the garden, with their decorative silvery blue-green leaves and subtle taste. If not harvested as a vegetable, the bud, or artichoke, will bloom and become a gigantic purple thistle flower.

Discovering that an artichoke was edible must have been just as daunting as eating lobster for the first time, with its massive leaves, covered in spines, and its thick stalks growing from the center of the plant. The tops of those stems are graced by the thistle flower.

The leaves or armor of the bud (a.k.a. artichoke) are best eaten when young, as the individual leaves become tough with age. After steaming, a delicious way to eat the artichoke leaves is to dip the “stem end” of them in butter or a homemade Hollandaise sauce and pull your teeth along the leaf to scrape off the tender meat.

Though many of us regard the leaf as the delicacy, the artichoke heart is the prize of this vegetable. To get to the small, round, edible heart, use a knife to carefully cut off the prickly petals of the steamed artichoke.

The artichoke originated in a Mediterranean country, which some think was either Sicily or nearby Tunisia. But it is Italy that prized the artichoke and learned to dis-arm the bud and turn it into a tasty vegetable. To this day, artichokes are a staple on menus at Italian restaurants. They are served steamed with butter, and are also prepared by lifting back the leaves, one at a time, and placing a homemade stuffing inside of each.


In 2013, the artichoke was declared California’s official vegetable. In 2013, the artichoke was declared California’s official vegetable. Italian immigrants brought artichoke seeds with them to the U.S. and found that parts of California had a similar climate to Sicily's.

Today, California

grows nearly 100 percent of the artichoke crop that supplies the U.S. Castroville, California declares itself to be the artichoke center of the world, and holds an annual festival dedicated to the quirky vegetable.

A smaller and equally exotic-looking variety of artichoke is called the “Green Improved” artichoke, or Cardoon. Cardoons, a hybrid cousin of the artichoke, also have thistle flowers. The “Rouge D’Alger” is the cardoon to plant in your garden. Their stems are reddish purple, and the thick stalks are covered with thorns. Unlike the artichoke, cardoons can be a bit bitter, so they must be soaked in vinegar for 30 minutes before boiling, to reduce the bitterness.

What is most magnificent, however, is how beautiful these plants look in your garden.

Steamed Artichokes

Serves 4

4 Globe artichokes
1 large pot, two inches of water
and a steamer basket
A pinch of salt

Cut off the stalk to the artichoke along with any brown or damaged leaves. Cutting off the pointy top is optional. I think it is prettier if left on.

Place two inches of water and salt into the large pot, add the steamer basket, place the artichokes in the basket.

Steam the artichokes for 40 minutes or until you can easily pull off the leaves.

Remove from the pot and drain. Once drained, place them on a dish with a ramekin filled with melted butter or your favorite hollandaise sauce recipe.

Enjoy autumn with this vegetable. It’s a real treat!



Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

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