Hi, I'm so glad you've come to see me. You’re a kind person who doesn't judge me on my appearance. Thank you for that. Sorry, I forgot to introduce myself, I'm a globe artichoke. I’m not one of the prettiest vegetables in the world but you will like me when you know me better. I’m a type of flower bud that grows on a thistle. Hey, don't confuse me with the Jerusalem artichoke. We are not related.
Many people find me prickly and tough but when you get to know the real me and you'll love me in a big way. Once I’m cooked, I have a mild nutty flavour and am often eaten with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon or mayonnaise. The part that is eaten is called the heart, which is the base of the flower bud. Let me tell you about myself.
As I said, I grow on a large thistle which can reach 1.5 metres in height (how tall are you? Would it be bigger or smaller than you are?). It has prickly green leaves, often with a purplish tinge. We form on branches that grow out from the side of the main stem and are the flower buds of the plant. If we're not picked, we go on to develop into a beautiful big purple flower.
The right time to pick us is when we're sweet and tender. If left to flower we can't be eaten because we become dry and woody and you really wouldn't like us.
We grow to about the size of a tennis ball (do you play tennis?) and are usually round in shape and made up of large leathery petals (like an unopened rose). Our petals (botanists call them bracts) surround and protect our tender centre which would grow into a flower if not eaten first. You can eat both this centre part and the succulent base of each of our petals.
In Australia, we come in two main colours – green and purple and are usually sold as a bud with the stem and a few leaves attached.
As the heading for this page is Artichokes I suppose I'd better tell you something about a vegetable that can’t be confused with me. Jerusalem artichokes are tubers with small knobs (swollen underground stems like potatoes and ginger) which belong to the sunflower family. They grow to 7-10cm long and about 3-5cm thick, rather like ginger. I'm told they have a honey-brown skin which encloses a crisp, tasty, white flesh but don't you go off trying them before you try me. We made friends first, remember.
Although we're available from April to November we're in peak season in August-October.
Here in Australia we're not usually sold by our variety, but colour as we come in green or purple Globe artichoke.
As I told you, we grow on the thistle plant which has very long stems with large branches that branch out like a Christmas tree. Some varieties have long spiked leaves which makes them look like giant ferns. As I said, if we're not picked for eating, we turn into beautiful purple flowers that you can find in the Sydney Flower Market and at your local florist.
We're grown in rows and when fully mature our parent plant can cover an area over 2 metres in diameter. About 15 of us grow on each plant. We prefer to grow in a colder climate but a cold chill (less than 10oC) or frosts will blemish our budding flowers but we're still perfectly good to eat if our outer leaves are removed.
Our parent plant is grown in one of two ways either from seed or from cuttings. Plants that are grown from cuttings start with a piece of root placed carefully into holes in long rows.
Newer varieties like the Global Star variety produces artichokes that are spikeless, making them safer and easier to pick and be packed. They're grown from seed as an annual which means that they're replanted each year as opposed to the rest of us which are perennial (we have a long-life span and flower every year).
Harvesting occurs about 5-6 months after the crop has been planted. I'm in my prime for eating just before my flower starts to open. If baby artichokes are needed it requires special attention to ensure they're picked at the right time.
To pick the best of us select small to medium, compact, bright green, plump artichoke that feel heavy for their size. Large ones tend to be a little tougher and have less flavour than the smaller ones.
Store us unwashed in recyclable plastic bags in the crisper section of your fridge. We'll keep for about 10 days.
Our ancestors were North African thistles which still grow wild today. People from the Middle East were thought to have been some of the earliest groups to use us as food. Due to our great taste, we quickly become popular and by Roman times, around 70 – 80 AD, only the rich were allowed to eat us and we were forbidden to the common people, which wasn't fair was it?
We were first cultivated in Italy in the early 15th century and were also eaten in France and England during the Middle Ages.
We were part of the First Fleet, you know, and in 1788 – the first year of European settlement in Australia – artichoke seeds were planted on Norfolk Island. Norfolk Island had better soil than the poor, sandy soil of Sydney Town.
Seed catalogues show we were available throughout the 19th century but by the first half of this century, we seemed to lose our popularity. It was the Italians, who migrated to Australia in the 1940s and 1950s, who brought us back into favour. They adore us and cook us so well that now everybody wants to eat us.
Artichokes are not as difficult to prepare and eat as we may appear.
To prepare an artichoke, cut off the stem and remove any tough outer leaves. Cut the top 20mm off and trim the tips of the remaining leaves.
Brush all cut surfaces with lemon juice or soak in lemon and water to prevent the flesh turning to brown.
An easy way to cook artichokes, is to plunge into a pot of boiling salted water and gently boil, turning occasionally, until tender when tested with a skewer in the base. Cook whole, discarding the fuzzy centre or ‘choke' either before or after cooking. Stems can be left on for some recipes if the leaves and fibrous outer green layer are removed first. The base or ‘bottom' (sometimes called the heart) of the artichoke is the most succulent part.
Artichokes may also be steamed and microwave. Boil or steam for 20-40 minutes (depending on the size) or microwave for 4-8 minutes depending on size and serve hot or cold.
Once cooked and the prickly choke is removed, they can be stuffed with cheese and breadcrumbs and baked.
Serve cooked artichokes with melted butter and lemon juice or mayonnaise. Simply remove the leaves by pulling downwards. Dip in sauce and pull leaves through teeth to remove the tasty flesh. Eat remaining artichoke with extra sauce if required. The base or heart of the artichoke is tender and delicious!