Sunday, May 25, 2014

Season of the Choke

I happen to love artichokes.  Hot or cold, with mayo or cooked in water with olive oil and
herbs.  My folks recently were in Castroville (supposed Artichoke Capitol of the world) and brought home many chokes for us.  I grew up on the Monterey Peninsula, driving by choke fields in Carmel and Castroville, Watsonville and Salinas.

It was the Spanish settlers who brought the artichoke to California. Some artichoke plants were in the gardens of European immigrants.  California's first artichoke fields grew south of San Francisco near the town of Half Moon Bay in the early 1920s.  In 1922 Andrew Molera planted the first artichoke shoots in Castroville. Angelo Del Chiaro, Egidio Maracci, Daneil Pieri, and Amerigo subsequently leased 150 acres of land and grew artichokes.  There's a state beach in Big Sur named after Mr. Molera.

In 1923 there were nine artichoke growers. Within four years there were over 50 growers and 12,000 acres of artichokes growing in Castroville, and in the Monterey Bay area. Whatever you do, know that you do NOT have to get all fancy schmancy like Jacques here

I gasp in horror as he cuts away some of the best parts! The stems are great! They are like the heart.  Cook the chokes simply by placing them in a large pot of water and boiling for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on size.  I like them cold for lunch.  I eat the stems as well.  If you don't like stems, don't cook 'em.  Send them over to me.

Here is a beautiful choke in my neighborhood, that has been allowed to flower.

Isn't in gorgeous?  Contrary to popular belief, they are not difficult to cook and eat.  Been doing it my entire life.  They are a delicacy that goes well with just about any other good food.  I also make a mean artichoke spread for crackers, with the hearts, mayo, garlic and Parmesan baked until bubbly and brown.

Speaking of delicacies, I recently had the most heavenly clams in the shell in a crazy good broth, with crunchy garlic bread for dipping, along with a cucumber martini.  Okay, Okay, yes, I AM a martini purist.  Perhaps this drink should be called a vodka cucumber chilly breeze or something. It was so good that I purchased cucumber infused vodka and other makings the very next day.  Forget about the recipes that call for mint, or squeezing cucumber into a juice.  Just get yourself some flavored vodka (mine was Skinny Girl because that was the only brand flavored with cucumber), a lime and some Cointreau.  Shake shake shake that icy drink and enjoy.  But be careful, it doesn't taste like the highly alcoholic drink that it is.  It is light and refreshing.

Ah, the tastes of summer to come....


  1. Thank you for celebrating artichokes! My mother cooked artichokes in a pressure cooker for our family when we were growing up in Redwood City. We ate them with Best Foods Real Mayonnaise. She came to Southern California from Minnesota in the late 1930s and might have been introduced to them at that time. After my parents retired, my father grew artichokes in his garden on the bluffs in Mendocino County. Those were the best artichokes I ever had. My DNA test showed ancestry on the Iberian Peninsula. Perhaps my ancestors ate artichokes!

    These days I steam them and eat them plain. Once I invited a neighbor over for artichokes, and she proceeded to cut the lovely artichokes up the way the man in the video does. Pretty but not at all necessary!

    They are right up there with avocados in terms of delicious. I've found it difficult to find a really good artichoke up here in Washington State, but it's possible. Too often the stems are stringy. For me, a good artichoke is one where the stems are creamy like an avocado.

    Up here, I usually see the pretty perfect-looking globe-shaped artichokes. The ones that look like the ones in the photo are the tastiest ones. A raggedy-looking artichoke with a little bit of frost burn on the leaves can be the best artichoke ever.

    I even did a painting featuring artichokes some years ago. Where could that be?

    Artichokes!!! Yay!!!

    1. Oh yes, I still eat them with Best Foods. Try drizzling them with olive oil and sprinkling with herbs while you steam them. A little chopped garlic, herbs d' provence.....

  2. We had a prolific artichoke plant when we lived in Fort Bragg. I think it was about 40 years old! Like you, I was raised on them and adore them. Still trying to figure out how to grow them here... It's likely not chilly enough for them.

    1. yes, they do seem to like that coastal fog, though like I said, we successfully grew them in super hot Gilroy which had no fog at all.