The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene
October 31, 2012The thistle family has provided two notable residents of the kitchen garden: the well-known artichoke and the lesser known cardoon. They are both natives of the Mediterranean shore and have a long lineage in these southern parts. Their consumption, however, has not always been approved of. The noted Roman historian Pliny the Elder recorded in his voluminous Naturalis Historia (c. 77 CE): “The fact is it is well known that at Carthage and particularly at Cordova crops of thistles yield a return of 6000 sesterces from small plots – since we turn even the monstrosities of the earth to purposes of gluttony, and actually grow vegetables which all four-footed beasts without exception shrink from touching.”
In more modern times, the artichoke has become one of the great delicacies of the Virginia garden while the cardoon is one of the great curiosities. Grown primarily in this country for its handsome foliage and striking blue thistle blooms, cardoon remains a popular esculent in southern European cuisines. Stephen Switzer observed in 1726, “The Spanish Cardoon . . . I think when it is well whiten’d, it eats much better in Soups than Celery does; and being sew’d in a Pan, eats a great deal shorter, perfectly melting in the Mouth.” Most English would find this to be extravagant praise for a vegetable found in but a few households, but it is not without its admirers.It is certain, however, that it must be blanched to lessen its extreme bitterness before it is used in any form. Many English authors recommend earthing the plants up to whiten the stems but as this would require a prodigious amount of land to earth so large a plant; we find a wrapping of paper to be much more economical. The method of management is thus:
In the latter part of summer, after the plants have gone to bloom and the foliage has decayed, the entire plant must be cut to the ground. In a few week’s time, new sprouts will appear and it is this new growth that is the most eligible for blanching. When the plant has grown to three feet tall, select one or two of the largest outgrowths of stems from each plant and cut away the rest. Remove the outer, coarser stems from each bunch and then bind together the inner stems with a stout cord. They are then wrapped in paper to exclude the sun and are left for four or five weeks to whiten. With proper management the stems should be fit for use by Thanksgiving.
For a complete examination of Artichokes and Cardoon you are invited to inspect Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way, 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardeners (Rodale Press)