I picked artichokes from my garden today. I planted some seedlings amongst five rose bushes a little over 4 months ago, in a raised flowerbed separated from my veggie and herb garden by a gravel pathway. I almost did not expect them to grow, but once they grabbed hold of the soil, I soon had four spiky looking plants thrusting upwards and outwards their greying green primitive leaves, and just three weeks ago, I saw the fist bud snug in an innermost curve of a leaf against the stem.
Soon, there were more, and today I picked six to add to the four I picked at the end of last week. Tonight I have more than enough to cook for the two of us. In another day or two, there will be another five. An abundance of artichokes at the moment.
There is something so decadent about the idea of a bowl stacked high with steaming artichokes, and a smaller bowl of melted butter soured with lemon juice to dip a plucked leaf into and then scrape off the just cooked flesh at the base of the leaf between almost clenched teeth. There’s a slowing down when you get to the innermost soft heart: the layer of leaves get softer and then suddenly more spiky as the edge of the choke is reached. And then, suddenly, the creamy, green-tasting heart lies revealed: buttery, with a slight bitter edge.
The only artichokes I ever had before, were on pizza, from tins. I remember not really liking them then, vaguely disappointed after reading about them in a number of articles and recipes in Mediterranean cookbooks, browsed in bookstores. And then suddenly, like so many other ingredients, about 10 years ago they were available in my local greengrocer. For me they signify a very particular time of year: late spring, early summer: much like peonies which appear in glorious abundance for two or three weeks and then, nothing until another year.
So early evening I shall cook a heap of them to have for starters, and sit with my husband at one end of our 10 seater dining room table, and think about my son and his wife in far-off Szechuan province in China where they cannot buy artichokes. Soon I will be saying goodbye to my other son who is poised to fly off to live and work in Cape Town. No more noisy Sunday lunches and boozy midweek dinners with boys and their friends and girlfriends and even an official daughter in law. So it goes. But tonight I’ll eat artichokes from my garden and with buttery fingers lift my glass in a sad salute to all the years of having my sons around my table.