Left: Artichoke bush in the garden.
Right: Atichoke, grown huge and spiky, just ready to bloom.
Artichokes are thistles and left on their bush long enough, the buds become huge, tough and spiky, developing the purple flower we associate with Scottish kilts, Laphroaig and Sean Connery. We buy the young, underdeveloped buds. They can be green, purple, round or pointed.
When we first arrived in Australia (Ten Pound Poms, French mother) my mother took us out to pick tiny wild artichokes. Well of course, they were thistles - and delicious they were, too.
Jerusalem Artichokes are a lovely tuber dug from the roots of a type of sunflower. They bear no relation to the artichoke. The English names are very confusing. In French, there are artichauts and topinambours, respectively. In Italian there are carciofi and topinambur.
Hoping one day someone will make me artichaut à la juive or carciofi alla giudia, an old Jewish recipe from Rome. Whole artichokes are deep-fried in olive oil (imagine the quantity of oil) so that they open like roses and can be eaten like potato crisps.
Avoid bringing the leaves anywhere near food. They are extremely bitter. An unfortunate friend once got creative and added the leaves to a dish of chicken and artichokes - for decoration. Disaster. The leaves can be rubbed on your fingers if you're still fighting the urge to bite your nails.
Don't attempt to eat the fibrous petals. They get more tender towards the centre. I've seen people make valiant attempts to eat the lotus leaf or banana leaf wrapping around Chinese sticky rice and the sugar cane of Vietnamese sugarcane prawns. Artichoke petals should also be left alone. You can't have it all.
A strange sweetness can invade your mouth when you drink red wine with artichokes. This happens only to some people. Any ideas, anyone?
Artichokes not only contain every nutritional device, meme and trope imaginable, every vitamin, folate, fibre, antioxidant (highest level of any vegetable), known for thousands of years. You know the story. But it is particularly useful it seems, for the digestive system and can be delivered to you through a glass of Cynar, a digestive so bitter, it's impossible to imagine it doing you anything but good. It could remove original sin, given a chance along with plague, locusts, boils and pestilence.
The plates - any large plate will do, large enough to hold the discarded petals as you eat but...
Majolica artichoke plates have been made by the French company Gien since the late 19th C. Mine were collected bit by bit on eBay but date no later than the 1970s.