I bought artichokes at the store today, a sure sign for me that spring has come. I buy them every year and eat them as a main dish. I wish I could grow them.
In the yard of the house I grew up in, we had an artichoke plant. I can't remember ever actually harvesting artichokes from it, but it did produce giant "fairy dust" as we called the thistle blossoms. We would try to make them float away on the wind, sometimes the wind being only what we could produce by huffing and puffing and dashing about trying to keep the thing in the air by blowing on it from beneath. The Santa Clara Valley in those days had lots of hot, still days.
I wish before we had moved away from California that we had visited the great fields of artichokes down by Castroville on the Monterey Bay coast.
Anyway, we grew up knowing how to eat artichokes. I savored each bite, from the outer, tougher leaves that gave up only a little meat, to the heart, I ate everything possible, and our family's way to eat artichokes was to dip them in melted butter. It was the only way, I thought.
When I was a teenager I went to girls' camp in the summer, and when we arrived, I happened to be in the right place to watch the unloading of the food for the week. Artichokes! The kitchen staff were unloading boxes and boxes of artichokes! Yum! I eagerly anticipated the night when they would be served, with dishes of melted butter on the side. They were served the very first night, much to my satisfaction. But no butter! They had little dishes of mayonnaise. What were they thinking? Not having developed the finer skills of etiquette, I protested loudly and asked for butter. It seemed as if all the girls at my table "knew" that you were supposed to use mayonnaise on artichokes instead of butter. Butter! They had never heard of such a thing!
Well, I couldn't eat my artichoke plain, so I tried the mayonnaise. It was better than I had expected.
I have since moved to where there are artichokes in the stores in the springtime, but not as good as the ones I remember having in California. And when I first served artichokes to my college roommates, they didn't even know how to eat them. When I demonstrated and encouraged, they tried, but they didn't like the work it took to get such a little return, or so they thought. I happily ate all their artichokes. With butter, although I offered mayonnaise too.
Then later still in my family I tried to get them to enjoy artichokes the way I do. They don't like them. My husband was a lost cause for many years, but lately he has been persevering to the heart and finding it worth the labor. These people astonish me. How people near and dear to me could be so cavalier about leaving an artichoke half finished is beyond me. Now that my mother lives with us, I have an ally in artichoke-eating-to-the-end enjoyment.
But even my mother disappoints me now and then, having lost most of her appetite with a serious illness a couple years ago, and she hasn't rediscovered the joys of eating yet. (Sometimes I make her eat her vegetables. She tells me she was a very picky eater when she was young and her mother never made her eat her vegetables, so why should her daughter get to bully her this way? I tell her she needs vegetables anyway, as a good example to grandchildren if nothing else. She eats what she likes and leaves the rest.)
Tomorrow night's artichokes are going to be gently boiled until perfectly done all the way through. I'll melt the butter AND put out the herbed spread--in my health conscious middle age, I have developed a taste for artichokes with fat-free spreads--and the mayonnaise.
It will still be no contest at all as to who enjoys the treat the most.