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Purple Pennsylvania artichokes! May 30, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Here at Hawk’s Haven, the ‘Violetta’ artichoke plants in our greenhouse are forming buds, the unopened thistle-like flowers that we eat as artichokes. Our friend Nancy Ondra gave us some ‘Violetta’ transplants last year (see her wonderful blog, Hayefield, by clicking on our blogroll at right, and see our earlier post, “Red corn and purple artichokes” for more about them, plus a yummy recipe for Artichoke Pasta a la Silence). Thanks again, Nan!

‘Violetta’, also called ‘Violetta di Chioggia’ and ‘Violetta Precoce’, is only hardy to Zone 7a (or where temperatures never drop below 0 degrees F). Our garden is Zone 6a, a full hardiness zone colder. So we tucked our three plants in our in-ground greenhouse bed and tried to keep them alive over winter. Much to our amazement, we succeeded.

And now, lo and behold, the biggest plant has produced an artichoke bud, with a second on the way. You’d think we would be ecstatic—perennial artichokes in Pennsylvania!—but we have a couple of problems. Our friend Ben’s problem is that, with a name like ‘Violetta’, the leaves and artichokes are supposed to be purple, or at least purplish. And outside in full sun, they probably are. But in our greenhouse, their color is, shall we say, unexpected, more like a very faint purple-grey bruise spreading over an expanse of jaundiced skin. Our friend Ben recognizes that this is probably due more to my less-than-tender parenting skills rather than the inherent traits of the plant, but still. It’s not quite the color of my dreams.

Silence Dogood also has a problem. I’ve never known Silence to be at a culinary loss—I would stake my lottery money on her as an “Iron Chef” contestant any day—but she can’t figure out how one is supposed to cook an artichoke that’s about an inch around.

When preparing the standard ‘Green Globe’ artichoke, she tells me, you cut straight across the top with a sharp knife to remove the spiny tips, then plunge the big buds in boiling water for half an hour or so until the “leaves” pull off easily and are tender. To eat them, you pull off one leaf at a time, dip the broad end in melted butter and lemon juice, vinaigrette, or a mayonnaise dip, then lift it to your mouth and pull the soft, buttery flesh from the bottom half of the leaf, discarding the rest (which is fibrous). When you’ve run out of leaves at the bristly core, scoop off the bristly part with your spoon and add it to the discard pile (the flavor of artichokes is an aesthetic delight, but nobody could say that the process of eating one was an aesthetic experience!), revealing the soft, succulent, delicious heart beneath. You then scoop bits of that out with your spoon, lower them into the melted butter, and savor them like the treasure they are.

This technique works beautifully for an artichoke the size of your two fists. But what, Silence wailed, can you do with a mini-artichoke? It’s not like the “leaves” (actually sepals surrounding the future flower) of the little thing look soft and tender or anything, so you could just drop the ‘choke in boiling water for a few minutes and eat it whole. They’re every bit as spiny-looking as their bigger cousins. But if you cut the tops off of them, you’ll only have about a half-inch of artichoke left!

If anyone out there can help Silence, please let us know. Otherwise, we’ll probably be enjoying beautiful purple artichoke blooms in a week or two, and hope that Silence can solve the mystery before next year’s buds form…

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1. Daphne Gould - May 30, 2009

I would guess you just eat the heart. With such a small artichoke it will be just a little bite. But better that then nothing. Are they supposed to be that small? Will they get bigger when the plants get bigger? I would hesitate to let any plant go to seed when you want to eat the buds. They might stop producing. Then again I really know nothing about artichokes since I too am in zone 6 and they don’t survive the winter. Sadly I have no greenhouse for out of zone experimentation.

Interesting points, Daphne! As for the artichoke size, I don’t know. I knew they were supposed to be smaller, but I didn’t think that meant this small!

2. phillyprof - February 8, 2010

Once you remove the tougher outer leaves and cut off the spines, and remove the stem and tough outer part of the base, put the artichokes in acidulated water. Small artichokes can be sliced very thinly and eaten raw (dress with olive oil, lemon juice and shaved parmesan); quartered and stewed in olive oil, lemon juice, thyme and garlic and served atop grilled fish; quartered and dipped in a light egg batter and deep fried; etc. etc. It’s common in Italian and California markets to find sacks of 1-2″ artichokes. In Italy they often come all prepped, which is really very civilized.

Thanks so much for the tips! Civilized indeed. I’ll give them a try when my plants produce chokes this summer!


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