Tuesday, July 14, 2009

California Choking

PJ and I, both California transplants, first encountered artichokes in a Pacific Palisades home in the early 1970s. Though it challenged my Midwest sensibilities, I remained intrigued and open-minded. Importantly, I did not choke, and passed a newcomer’s litmus test.

An artichoke is a perennial thistle. Someone, a long time ago, in North Africa, came upon an artichoke plant, peered at it, and exclaimed, “That looks like food!” His grub gathering partner noted the bulbous, prickly head at the end of a long stem – cut it off at its base, and then preceded to beat the crap out of his buddy, who had obviously been grazing on too much cannabis.

Fast-forward to today, and California is the home of both artichokes and cannabis, though I am just guessing on that second point. In fact, eating an artichoke without choking is one of the tests to become a Californian, third only to a valid driver’s license and choking on smog.

Today, it is not a staple in our house, but we enjoy one once a month. I have seen so many ways to prepare artichokes (or use as an ingredient) that this thistle could compete with the litany of shrimp uses recited by Forrest Gump’s best buddy, Bubba. But, you would expect that in California, home to nearly 100% of the chokes grown in the United States.

The choke migration began in North Africa. The French brought it to Louisiana, and the Spanish carried it to California. Those Spanish were everywhere in the 19th Century. Eighty percent of the production is in Monterey County, with Castroville claiming the title, “Artichoke Capital of the World”. A young Marilyn Monroe was crowned Castroville’s first “Artichoke Queen.”

Technically, an artichoke is a flower. If so, then deflowering one is something guys should know about, involving removing lots of layers, and careful handling to get to the heart of the matter.

Okay, since I have taken you this far, in the 16th Century only men were allowed to eat artichokes because they were considered an aphrodisiac and thought to enhance sexual power. As a former marketing maven, I have no idea why the California Artichoke Commission isn’t all over that tidbit. Knowing this, I suspect a lot of guys would eat them raw.

Eaten by themselves, chokes don’t have much flavor. Why else would they contain zero fat? I am not aware of anything called the Artichoke Diet, but when it comes to diets, nothing surprises. Chokes need dips to delight. The most common ones are melted butter and mayonnaise.

Think of eating an artichoke as similar to chips and dips – an American staple. The petals are the chips. After a couple of years of not choking on chokes, you will become Californianized. Zounds! Relax, you still can refrain from tofu and alfalfa sprouts.

1 comment:

lauralisonash said...

And quite good on pizza, too!