August - October
Artichokes are quite the challenge to grow in our northern climates. They are perennials that don’t usually produce flowers until their second year, so they tend to be more suited to California, which is the origin of artichokes found in most grocery stores. In Wisconsin, the plant must be started indoors in January or February, and then “fooled” into thinking it has endured a winter by moving it outside around April so it can be below 50 but above freezing for a few weeks. Once the warm weather comes, the young plant will think it’s already in its second season and possibly produce small artichokes in the same year (the size of artichoke hearts you see in the store). These are perfectly tasty and actually preferred in Italy. It’s possible some Wisconsin farmers have figured out a trick to overwintering artichokes in this climate, but we don’t expect them to share their secrets. We’re perfectly content simply enjoying the wonderful fruits of their labor.
Commercial artichokes are usually sprayed to prevent earwigs, aphids and fungus, so if purchasing organic ‘chokes, give them a good spanking over a sink or soak in a bowl of salt and vinegar water to scare out any earwigs or aphids. These pests usually will not harm the heart inside.
Fun facts: Marilyn Monroe was crowned the Artichoke Queen in Castroville, CA, in 1948; and the artichoke is actually a member of the thistle family.
Nutrition: One large artichoke contains few calories and no fat. They are a good source of potassium, vitamin C, dietary fiber and folic acid. A new USDA study also ranks artichokes number one in antioxidant content, especially cynarin and silymarin which benefit the liver. The challenge is not drowning them in salad dressing!