Cooking globe artichokes | Growing globe artichokes | Site and Soil | Sowing | Varieties | Planting | Picking | Pests and Diseases
The globe artichoke is a member of the Compositae, the daisy family, and it is closely related to the thistle. The edible part of the plant is the immature flower bud. If these buds, globular in shape, are not harvested, large bluish thistle-like flower heads develop. The edible portion of the globe artichoke is composed of the fleshy bases of the tiny bunched florets, and the base to which the florets are attached, known as the ‘heart'. The top part of the florets is hairy and can become spiny, sometimes known as the ‘choke', and cannot be eaten.
Not known as a wild plant, the globe artichoke, Cynara scolymus, may have been derived from the cardoon, Cynara cardunculus. The globe artichoke has been grown since before Roman times and was grown in Northern Europe in the sixteenth century, reputed at that period to have aphrodisiac properties. It has been associated with Brittany for five centuries and it thrives in that climate of mild winters and not-too-hot summers. It can be killed by hard frost, especially on heavy soils. Although it is not much grown as a vegetable, it can easily be fitted into a perennial border or a mixed border, where its flowers are decorative. The plants last for several years and grow quite large and broad but crop best in their first few years, and should be replanted every few years with new plants coming on.
Cooking globe artichokes
Globe artichokes are cooked by boiling or steaming in water for about half an hour, or by microwaving for a few minutes. The whole head less the stem base is cooked and the classic way to eat globe artichokes is to peel away the scales, one by one, nibbling off the tiny bit of some tissue at the base, eventually arriving at the choke which is removed to reveal the succulent heart. These hearts can be taken from cooked artichokes and used as an ingredient in a range of recipes and it is the hearts that are pickled and tinned. Artichokes are a good source of potassium and reputed to have beneficial effects on digestion and liver function.
Site and soil
Globe artichokes, like their thistle relatives, like well-drained fertile soil that borders on being light. If the soil is too light, the plants will make small heads so plenty of rich organic material should be added.
Globe artichokes can be raised easily from seeds sown in spring, grown in rich ground, in seed rows about forty centimetres apart. Most gardens will not require more than a few plants, perhaps even just one.
‘Green Globe' is the standard variety, although others may be offered by some seed companies.
Transplant the well-developed young plants to final positions the following autumn or spring. It is possible to split existing plants into separate crowns, each of which can become a new plant. Space the plants about ninety centimetres apart each way, or the same from other plants.
Strong young plants may produce small globes in their first autumn but generally the first globes will be cut in the second summer. Wait until the flower bud has sized up but not too long or its gets too coarse and will eventually open the flower.
Pests and diseases
Globe artichokes are more or less trouble-free. Snails often attack the soft leaves and can destroy the emerging flower stems. The plants, being evergreen, often become a haven for snails and it is not a bad idea to cut away all the leaves in early autumn to reduce this problem.