My first encounter with this complicated vegetable came well into my 20’s. Ours was a basic peas, carrots, corn kind of family.
It was at a small roadside restaurant called “Spuds” in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Its success came with simplicity. They only served 2 things; baked potatoes, with all kinds of toppings, and steamed artichokes.
It quickly became a favorite lunch spot. The potatoes were a full meal, but we came back for the artichokes, which were a ritual.
I didn’t order the artichoke until I’d observed folks at work at surrounding tables.
It was a fascinating process, removing the thorny outer leaves, dipping them in molten butter, scraping the “meat” out with your teeth, and progressing to the much desired heart at the center, which also took a bit of work to uncover.
It is not for the timid, or for folks who are in a hurry. It is the polar opposite of fast food.
The only equivalent for me was the way we harvested the edible parts of those Maryland blue crabs, another time consuming, painstaking eating ritual which I’d seen since childhood. But again, so worth the effort.
First mentioned by Homer in the 8th century BC, the artichoke emerged as a garden plant in the Mediterranean. Today, nearly 100 percent of the crop here in the US comes from California.
Interesting to note that at full maturity, it blooms a beautiful purple flower that renders the plant inedible.
As I dipped into my second batch of artichoke- spinach dip this holiday, I thought of the ritual, and missed it a bit.
There is a can of artichoke hearts in my pantry right now.
I just can’t bring myself to open it.