Artichokes: Their History And How To Eat Them
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Artichokes have been cooked and eaten around the Mediterranean for as long as two millennia. Known as the ‘aristocrat; of the vegetable world, the ancient artichoke has a spiky exterior made of “leaves” and a delicate flavour. Historians have estimated that artichokes were cultivated by North African Moors in 800 A.D., and that the Saracens, an Arab group, introduced artichokes to Italy.

Italian immigrants first brought the artichoke to California in the 1890s. A few years later, a local businessman named John Debenedetti developed California’s artichoke industry. He soon discovered that it would have to be sold in the Northeast, where eager Italian-Americans were ready to pay fifty cents to a dollar per artichoke because they considered it an ancient delicacy. Baby artichokes were especially sought after and used in Italian cooking. Boiled artichokes (with béchamél or hollandaise) were first featured in the 1921 edition of Fannie Farmer’s cookbook. 

The history of the artichoke includes a racket started by Ciro Terranova, an artichoke dealer who wanted to profit from its popularity. He sent people to coerce importers into selling them artichokes at a fraction of the original cost. Anyone who refused to comply was beaten up. Terranova sold the seized artichokes to local vendors for double the price and kept the profits for himself. His racket began to be called ‘the Artichoke King’. By 1930, newspapers in New York newspapers regularly reported about this criminal activity.

How to eat an artichoke

Eating an artichoke looks complicated but is actually easy. Pluck a leaf from the outer part, hold it between your thumb and forefinger, and place it (fleshy side down) against your bottom teeth. Bite with your upper teeth and gently pull the leaf away, scraping off the flesh into your mouth. Discard the peel. Continue plucking each leaf until you reach the tender heart. The heart, also known as the caviar of vegetables, can be found at the bottom of the artichoke, and has a nutty flavour and creamy consistency.