The Sweet Life Gardener – Artichoke

By Alisa Murray

Hey Sweet Lifers! I must say for anyone who tried to keep a garden growing during this heat wave we have had – CONGRATS! I admit I cleared the beds and prepped them for fall and perhaps even this spring. With the critters nibbling whatever they can to stay sustained in this heat, I left the celery and anything else that chose to try to survive without much help from me.

What I am hoping for is a little miracle since my artichoke and asparagus beds have been established, and once established, they are supposed to maintain themselves for many years. So far, the asparagus is doing well on her own. I am still praying for the artichoke bed!

I planted artichoke, because well, it’s one of my favorite things to eat, and it’s not the cheapest thing to find at the market. Technically it’s a thistle, but it gets categorized as a veggie. There’s so much to do with them, and just about everything you can make tastes so good! Plus, there are many nutritional benefits in artichokes. They are antioxidant rich, along with providing fiber, minerals and vitamins. They are also high in vitamin C and a great source of folate, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium.

Medicinally, the artichoke provides a natural source for lowering cholesterol, particularly the triglycerides which are the bad guys in heart health. They help with reducing high blood pressure, and the leaves are believed to be very useful in boosting liver function. They also have a positive effect on digestion and gastronomical associated issues, such as increasing the gut microbiome.

The history of the artichoke is very interesting, and I always love when I stumble upon anything be it a flower or a food with a rich background. Artichokes have been a staple food since ancient times, and it makes sense since those folks were pagans and worshipped different gods that they would have attached some lore to naming this perfect thistle. Zeus, while visiting his brother Poseidon, saw a beautiful woman named Cynara bathing at the sea shore, and he fell slap dab in love with her. It is said he took her Mount Olympus where she missed her mother and sought frequently to escape. Zeus, being angered by her discontent, tossed her from his home and turned her into an artichoke!

Pliny the elder stated that the artichoke cured baldness, freshened the breath and of all things, promoted the conception of boys! The thistle throughout the ages apparently has been associated with encouraging love making. The Medici family brought them over to France in the 16th century before marrying Henry II. They were being grown in American colonies in the 18th century, and George and Martha Washington grew the kind I grow, the globe artichoke, at Mount Vernon.

Perhaps the best way to cook them is to marinate them in a bit of olive oil and spice, braise the hearts in butter and parsley, or my absolute favorite, to stuff them. I place pancetta and fresh shaved parmesan inside all of those bracts. In the center where the heart is located, I place a mixture of minced garlic, chopped parsley and then drizzle it with olive oil and pats of butter. Wrap them up on foil and bake for two hours at 375 degrees, and you’ll have an appetizer on your hands worthy of much praise. Our family just loves them!

Keep on growing and stay “sweet”