Cardoons: An Edible Ornamental

Standard

Joe, the Cardoon, and I
P1020320

Nearly 10 years ago I grew two lovely cardoon (Cynara cardunculusplants here at the house. An easy plant to grow from seed, I jokingly referred to it them as ‘Cardoonicus Maximus’ due to their imposing stature. Though clearly not at all the proper technical name for the plant, it stuck. If ever you’ve seen one of these in person, you’ll know they’re very dramatic. Many strangers would approach me when I was out front gardening to ask about them. I was proud.

But few ever asked why I’d grown them…

You see, back then, one of Grandpa Sam’s cousins was still alive. Like my grandfather, Joe had been the son of Sicilian immigrants. While visiting him one day at a nearby nursing home, we started to talk about the Sicilian dishes my family used to make and the unusual vegetables they’d grow for special dishes. Joe told me that only the old guys grew these plants and that he’d always thought they tasted good.

He added that he’d noticed gardens in SE Portland where cardoons had been planted, but that the cardoons were clearly not being grown to be eaten. He thought that was really funny. I’d noticed them too, and thought the plants were pretty, so I asked him if he’d like for me to grow some for him. We were both really excited about the arrangement so it was off to the garden I went!

Sadly, Joe did not live long enough to share those first cardoons with our family, so now whenever I see them, it makes me kind of sad. Eating those first few batches was kind of emotional without him.

Growing  CardoonsP1020322

Growing cardoons is quite easy since they are technically thistles.

Need I say more? 

They like sun, can tolerate poor soil, and don’t need a lot of water. Their spines hurt though and in order to prepare them to be eaten their centers need to be blanched. This means tying the plants up and heaping soil around their base.

In my climate (zone 8) they are an edible perennial. (We ate ours for three seasons then tore out the plants due to their size.)

I’ve found that they are very easily grown from seed. If you can grow artichokes, you can grow cardoons.

Cooking the CardoonsIMG_8146

Last winter—while giving a talk about seed starting at Drake’s Garden Store—the co-host of a local garden-themed TV show was in the audience and asked me if I’d cook them on the show. (I was discussing growing them from seed—go figure.)

“Of course,” I blurted out!

So here we are today. Since I didn’t grow the plants this season I had to find a local purveyor and was lucky enough to find them courtesy of Viridian Farms. We’re blessed with great local growers and I can’t wait to cook up more of their produce. They have an amazing selection of hard-to-find items.

(If you’re interested in seeing me in the Garden Time episode you can find it by clicking here. I’m in the last segment with my friend William and I have to say the experience was wonderful.)

As for the recipe I used, here it is!

Cardoons in Tomato Sauce

(adapted from Angelo Pellegrini’s recipe in his book The Unprejudiced Palate)

Ingredients

• 1 head of fresh cardoons (remove the thickest outer stalks)

• 3-4 slices of bacon, 1/4 lb. lean salt pork, cut into pieces

• 1 large clove of garlic, minced

• 1 medium onion, minced

• 3 sprigs of parsley, chopped

• 1 sprig of marjoram, minced

• 1 cup of tomatoes, canned and diced

• 1 cup of stock, chicken or vegetable

• 1/2 cup Parmigiano cheese

• 1/2 cup bread crumbs

• salt and pepper to taste

• 2 lemons or 1/2 cup lemon juice

Remove the hardened outer stalks of the cardoon and use the inner portion of the plant for this recipe. Prepare the cardoon stalks one at a time with a knife and/or peeler and when finished, place each piece into a bowl of water acidified with lemon juice.

To prepare the cardoons, remove the tough outer ribs on each stalk with a knife or peeler. Then scape the inner portion to remove some of the fuzziness. (This can be done with a small knife.) Slice each stalk into 2- to 3-inch pieces and toss into the large bowl of lemon water. After the cardoons are all prepared, toss them into a large pot of boiling water with a pinch of salt to scald them. Boil for several minutes and then drain and set aside.

In a large pan cook the bacon or pork pieces for several minutes until browned. Add the onion and garlic and continue to cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. Toss in the parsley and marjoram and cook slowly until the onions are done. Add the tomatoes and stock and simmer for 15 minutes. At this point add the drained cardoons and simmer for approximately 20-30 minutes longer making sure to turn the cardoons often. They will be ready when the cardoons are tender.

A few minutes before serving, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cheese and stir.

If you’d like to make the dish more fancy drizzle lightly with truffle oil. The dish also goes very well with a roasted chicken or other simple main dish.

(If you’d like to learn more about pioneering food and garden writer Angelo Pellegrini find out more by clicking here.)

Footnote: Impressing your Friends with the Cardoon

IMG_7896

Walking through the farmer’s market with one of these slung over your shoulder will make other shoppers jealous. I can’t tell you how many men pointed and wanted whatever it was my husband had because it was big and looked cool.

IMG_7902

Leaving a ‘Great White’ Cardoon on your front porch will impress your dinner guests and gardening buddies.

(To learn more about the pioneering food and edible gardening author Angelo M. Pellegrini, click this link for more information: Pellegrini Foundation )

Taming the Beasts

Standard
Snow on a big leaf Rhododendron.
The snow beast roared its tiny little head this morning. Now it’s gone.
That was the easiest beast to tame this past week although the cold temps are still sticking around—unlike the snow.
Just about finished with the seed starting spreadsheet for 2013. I think I’ll be starting about 450 different types of seeds. The bowl of basmati rice pudding with almond milk, raisins and orange flower water really helped me get to the end of the project this year. It was a great reward for a difficult job.

My seed sheet is now complete and is accessible by clicking on the link above.

It was a difficult beast to put down because I’m challenged by the fact I still don’t know where my garden will be in the future. This beast is not yet purring but I will make it purr.

I know that I’m a woman who sorts seeds. It’s what I do. Last year I didn’t get to participate in this dull and slow process so doing it this year made me feel more like me.

Some people use Nyquil, others use Icelandic Schnapps.

The flu is everywhere right now and I hope with all of my heart that I’m able to escape it.

So far, so good. I’d much rather watch others deal with this creature. It’s not one I’m well equipped for, but I think with a bottle of this stuff, at least I wouldn’t care if I caught it.

I have a friend who chose to use this medicinal treatment involving Icelandic Moss Schnapps (http://www.fjallagrasa.is/en). The moss used is actually the lichen Cetraria islandica but it was hard to tell just by looking at the shriveled and dried up chunk of plant life inside of the bottle.

This is the little fur beast who inspired this post. Sometimes animals shock and surprise us. This is my partially feral garden cat who, after 7 years of hiding in the basement, now demands to sleep with me at night. With the other two geriatric cats currently restricted to the main floor she is able to hop the fence and run upstairs to jump onto the bed each evening.

Having seen her as a feral cat for the past 7 years it’s wonderful to see her change. Somehow she’s broken through a trust boundary and I’m thrilled to see the change.

I cannot help but believe too that my newfound calmness and focus has helped her feel safer around me. Before, I believe I was far too frantic for her. Life has really changed a lot since the divorce.

She has changed too.

 
19th century vase with thistle, Japan. Portland Art Museum.
I’ve been working diligently to feed the creative drawing and designing animal inside of me. It’s strange to feel the craving in my belly for this sort of thing, but it’s there and it’s starving.
As usual, I’m drawn more and more to Japanese designs. It fascinates me to no end to be so enamored of such simplicity when I’m such a complex and complicated person. As I enter into middle age I’m noticing that I crave simplicity more and more. I want to be at peace so I will feed the beast what it wants.
Discovering low-sodium dried sardine dashi has made me very happy. Making a hearty miso soup has been a great boon during wintertime.
Oh, and by the way, I simply cannot stop cooking. I guess I’m literally feeding the beast too!
2013 is going to involve more cooking and I hope to grow more produce. Of course I don’t expect to grow it all myself but I want to make a concerted effort with those around me and in my gardening life to learn more about food. As someone with severe sensitivities it’s now no longer such a chore and it has simply become more and more a way of being for me.
I might as well do it very, very well—for my wellness and for me.

Carduni aka Cardoons

Standard

Uncle Joe didn’t live long enough to eat the fried little treats, but nevertheless, that summer, we ate the carduni without him. He had been so excited to hear about my wonderful Sicilian-American husband, a non-relation from California, of good Sicilian ancestry of course, that the fact that he was also a trained cook was secondary, but it wasn’t so bad either. If only Pietro could go and show that man-called-a-cook at the retirement center how to cook pasta. That was what Joe wanted most of all, just plain decent everyday food. Every time we saw Joe, it was either a plea for help from him asking us to deal with the kitchen staff where he lived, or else he had a few nice things to say about the young female attendants. Keeping him away from both subjects was always a good choice when I visited though, and that was where the cardoons came in handy.
Now we still have the same cardoons, the ones I planted for him 3 years ago, and although I should probably re-seed them again so that the stalks next year will be younger and tastier, I just have a hard time ripping them out. Those plants make me think of Uncle Joe and what he meant to me. He was one of the strange but wonderful bachelors in my family who never married, choosing instead to live with family, pooling their money and resources as they lived together. Each individual appeared to have their place in they system, at least from my perspective, but who really knows now.
As I move on in my own life, I have to let these things go sometimes, and I have to hold on to what I can. I just wish that I could have held on to Uncle Joe longer, or to my Uncle Charlie or Uncle Fritz. I would trade those damn cardoons for a moment with any one of my old Sicilian relations in an instant.