Green and spiky, it's easy to be intimidated by the artichoke. But once we master it, most of us fall in love, charmed by its sweet, succulent interior. (No wonder food companies have taken to selling artichoke hearts!) Steamed and served with a little butter, the artichoke is at once simple and exquisite — not to mention the perfect ode to the season.
A Brief History of Artichokes
We are not the first to be enamored of the artichoke. Long before we were dipping those leaves in butter or preserving the hearts, ancient Greeks and Romans served artichokes with a sauce of honey and vinegar.
The artichoke has inspired famous pieces of artwork, wallpaper, a poem by Pablo Neruda, and even a fight. The famous Italian Renaissance painter Caravaggio once attacked a waiter over a plate of artichokes, enraged that the waiter had challenged him to smell the difference between artichokes cooked in butter and ones fried in olive oil.
There's also the story of New York mafioso Ciro Terranova, aka the Artichoke King. Terranova bought up all the crates of artichokes coming from California and resold them at a 30- to 40-percent profit. The ensuing "Artichoke Wars" got so severe that New York Mayor LaGuardia declared artichokes illegal, although the ban only lasted for a week.
These days, it's a little easier to get your hands on an artichoke, particularly if you swing by a springtime farmers market when artichokes are in season.
The most popular of cultivated artichokes is the globe artichoke, which is a part of the sunflower family and also related to thistles. Another close relative of artichokes are cardoons, which are grown for their stalks, as opposed to artichokes, which are grown for their bulbs.
One of the intriguing things about artichokes is that they contain an organic acid called cynarin, which stimulates your receptors for sweetness. That makes everything that you eat and drink after eating an artichoke taste just a little sweeter. As if you needed another reason to enjoy this springtime favorite.
This printable illustration is one of many in Edible Paradise, a coloring book by Jessie Kanelos Weiner devoted to seasonal produce. We're featuring illustrations from the book on The Kitchn every week during the month of April.