How are you getting ready for May Day? Are you practicing your May pole dance? Have you shaken out the dust and the bells on your Morris dancing costume? Are you looking for love? Are you going to participate in the much-loved rite of spring: streaking? If you answer “Yes!” to any of those questions then you might want to buy some artichokes in preparation.
Long considered an aphrodisiac, the artichoke is technically a flower bud that has not yet bloomed. Such a potent symbol: prickly on the outside, soft and yielding on the inside. In 1576, Dr. Bartolomeo Boldo wrote that the artichoke “has the virtue of … provoking Venus for both men and women; for women making them more desirable, and helping the men who are in these matters rather tardy.” Stock up on equal opportunity artichokes, they are good for everyone!
Greek mythology gives Zeus the credit for creating of the artichoke. After he had been spurned by a beautiful woman, Zeus turned his love object into a thorny thistle, the artichoke. The ancient Greeks and Romans thought the artichoke was a rare and delicious delicacy. What better time than the beginning of May to celebrate the artichoke, particularly when it is at the peak of its season? And Sunday is May Day, so you should get off on the right foot.
After the Greeks and the Romans the artichoke spread to Spain. Catherine de Medici was supposed to have brought the artichoke to France when she arrived to marry the future Henry II. Catherine was known for her voracious appetites for both food and romance, and she scandalized the French court by eating lots of artichokes, and enjoying the sexy reputation that resulted. Shortly thereafter the artichoke crossed the Channel, where Henry VIII, he of many wives, was thought to be quite fond of them.
The French brought the artichoke to America. George Washington grew them at Mount Vernon. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery contains a 17th-century recipe “To Make Hartichoak Pie.” At one point in Hamilton, the current Broadway show, it is remarked that Alexander Hamilton was a serial philanderer, and “Martha Washington named her feral tomcat after him.” One wonders if she ever served Alexander Hamilton Harty Choak Pie, too.
From Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery:
To Make an Harty Choak Pie:
Take 12 harty choak bottoms yt are good & large, after you have boyled them, take them cleere from ye leaves & cores, season them with a little pepper & salt & lay them on a coffin of paste, with a pound of butter & ye marrow of 2 bones in bigg pieces, then close it up to set in ye oven, then put halfe a pound of sugar to halfe a pinte of verges [a sauce made with green herbs] & some powder of cinnamon and ginger – boyle these together & when ye pie is halfe baked put the liquor in & set it in ye oven againe till it be quite bak’d.
Most artichokes sold in the United States today are grown in Castroville, California. In keeping with the artichoke’s somewhat sensual reputation, it should be noted that in 1947 Marilyn Monroe, then Norma Jean, was crowned Castroville’s first Artichoke Queen.
If you are going to get up to corporeal mischief this weekend, here are some helpful pointers:
This is a useful video of Jacques Pepin prepping an artichoke:
I have a fantasy life where on the weekends we are visited by our sophisticated and witty friends, who are stealing time away from their fascinating and glamorous careers in the arts. The only breakfast I could dream of serving them would be this:
It never hurts to have elegant imaginary friends.But if I expect a little romance myself this weekend, I had best up our breakfast game. I am going to give this a whirl: http://artichokes.org/recipes-and-such/recipes/artichoke-frittata Sadly, the Saturday morning reality is just Mr. Friday and me sitting blearily at the kitchen table, reading the papers, and considering our list of weekend chores while shoveling sticks and twigs into our gawping mouths. On Sundays we add bacon. This weekend I will throw a some inspiring artichokes into the mix and trust to fate!
“Tra la! It’s May!
The lusty month of May!
That lovely month when ev’ryone goes
-Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, Camelot
Here is a nice Maryland variation on the artichoke theme that Food52 suggests we try: https://food52.com/recipes/4382-crab-stuffed-artichokes