As it is once again artichoke season, I have been thinking about them again. There is more to this thistle than one would think. There was once an artichoke mafia and the head of that was called the “The Artichoke King.” This was way back in 1920 in America. The mayor of New York, at the time, La Guardia (that guy who got an airport named after him) took a hard stance against the mafia. In his words: “A racketeer in artichokes is no different than a racketeer in slot machines.”
The artichoke even inspired poetry. In this poem by Pablo Neruda of which I quote a short bit:
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.
The artichoke was also considered an aphrodisiac for many centuries. Marilyn Monroe was the first official California Artichoke Queen in 1949.
The artichoke is related to the cardoon, the artichoke thistle, which is part of the sunflower family.
I had a realization last winter — the microwave is an excellent steamer. I discovered this after I had heard about this from some cooking show or another. Previously (and perhaps because I had a mother who did not own a microwave) steaming artichokes involved that weird satellite dish steamer, scalding steam, and balancing the atomically hot metal thingy with heavy artichokes. Now, I simply wash and steam (I like to let my artichokes have a good drink of water when I bring them home so that the leaves plump up). Then into the microwave for about five minutes per artichoke depending on the size.
Today, there is no longer an artichoke mafia but the artichoke type most commonly sold in the US, are the kind with the hairy heart. I wish they would switch to the kind that has an edible heart.