On Artichoke Day in California 3/16: How many stories about Artichokes do you know? Any related to the Greek gods or the Italian NYC mafia?
• Peru is the biggest provider of “ready to eat” artichokes to the US and California produces 99% of the local supply of this very healthy vegetable
There are 2 key trends in food consumption: the special health benefits of each ingredient, and the distinct flavor or special quality of the food which appeals to chefs or other foodies. Now there is a 3rd element: the history, stories or anecdotes from each vegetable.
David Moscow understood this and last February he launched the first season of his TV show “From Scratch”, in which he visits a notable chef and then accepts the challenge of sourcing the different ingredients required to create the assigned meal. Along the way he encounters all kinds of people filled with interesting stories that accompany these ingredients as they make the journey from farm to table. “Being aware of the overwhelming amount of work, craftsmanship and passion behind the ingredients totally enhances the taste of the dishes,” explains Moscow.
The Trade Commission of Peru – PROMPERU Los Angeles invited David Moscow -for the second season of From Scratch- to visit Peru and meet one of the 3 Lima based chefs included in the list of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World. Additionally, David interviewed and worked with a female chef in charge of a restaurant neighboring an archaeological site in Miraflores. David travels took him from the coast to the highlands and the Amazon jungle in our foodie paradise, home to native ingredients such as potatoes and quinoa, cacao, avocados, ají Amarillo, and so much more.
When writing an article about artichokes, one must start with the amazing health benefits they have to offer. They have almost no fat, lots of fiber, high in nutrients that could be especially beneficial for the liver, blood pressure regulation and glucose balance, and anti-inflammatory effects… Apart from all the spectacular health benefits of consuming artichokes, this vegetable also starred as the protagonist in some pretty fantastic stories. Should we start with its California growers?
The Artichoke stories
The story of the artichoke industry in California first began with communities of Italian Americans who settled in San Mateo County, making Castroville “the Artichoke Capital of the World”. By the turn of the 20th century these groups had thoroughly stretched the production of the extremely sought-after crop up and down Highway 1. With the news of fresh artichokes reaching Italian neighborhoods on the east coast, the public demanded this vegetable and was willing to pay even up to a dollar, compared to its price of a nickel in San Francisco. What could explain this huge price difference? This east coast artichoke craze had not gone unnoticed by the Italian mob, who in the 1930s was known to have strong-armed its way into controlling the distribution for much of the national supply.
Another interesting story involving artichokes takes place in the region where their consumption is massive, the Mediterranean. In this flavorful tale, the Greek god Zeus falls in love with a beautiful mortal woman named Cynara and turns her into a goddess so she would be able to live in Olympus. However, one day in a fit of temper and perceived betrayal, Zeus sends her back to her island and turns her into an artichoke. Artichokes blossom lovely purple flowers, emulating the incredible beauty of Cynara. We can suppose that the creator of this Greek myth was inspired also by the artichoke’s rich complex flavor and texture and determined it would be the Goddess of all Vegetables. Take one bite and you would understand.
The middle ages bring us yet another interesting artichoke story. Back in this patriarchal time men completely controlled societies, and with their control came the sometimes-unusual rules they enforced. One of these rules was that women were not allowed to eat artichokes as it was believed that they caused lustfulness. Men on the other hand, enjoyed all the artichokes that they could find and all the energy and good health that they provide.
And the Peruvian Artichokes…
Peru is the main provider of ready-to-eat artichokes to the United States. This product is preserved in cans or jars, which facilitate its easy consumption on any occasion and even out of season, in households or even in restaurants.
You may know that normally a fresh artichoke has to be cooked and pealed before enjoying. It is no wonder Italians and other Mediterranean cultures invented the “experience” of eating a boiled artichoke, savoring its leaves one by one with an aioli, until arriving at the heart, which serves as the final reward for the hard work.
For more practical people, the famous artichoke, spinach, & parmesan dip has become a classic in the American at-home casual food scene and the perfect presentation to share with friends. We are sure good times will come back and we will break bread together soon.
Almost every chef has his own story with artichokes. The variety of dishes is immense and ranges from ravioli and lasagnas, to salads, fries, and antipasto. Some of the best recipes you can try include options such as NYC artichoke pizza, artichoke souffle, or flatbread combining artichoke with crab and asiago cheese. Vegetarians have for years developed their own dishes with artichokes, sometimes substituting the vegetable in chicken recipes, due to its similar texture. In Peru now 2 classic recipes have been adapted in the form of Artichoke ceviche and Artichoke tamale, for anyone to enjoy.
There is even a liquor made from artichokes. Its name? Cynara.