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Last night we had thistles for dinner. Oh, the poverty! Oh, the deprivation!

Tasty thistles

Globe artichokes were cheap and interesting at the Farmers’ Markets and neither M nor I had ever sampled them. We steamed them over a pot of stock (with a little garlic and a bay leaf). Here’s how you cook artichokes: you cut most of the stem off, and the outermost couple of layers of leaves, which are too tough. Then you steam them until the stem/neck/base is tender, about 20 minutes for little tykes likes these. An easy test is to pick one up by an outer leaf, and if the leaf plucks out and drops the globe back into the pot, they’re done.

The dark and mysterious vegetable

Now here’s how you eat them: starting at the base, pick off the leaves one at a time; hold the leaf by the pointy end, and use your teeth to scrape the flesh out. Kind of a lot of work, and, as you’ll discover if you’re playing along at home, there’s not much on each leaf. In fact, some of them have very little. Or none. All the instructions for cooking and eating should have been a big ol’ red flag, but novelty does a lot to distract me. We had them with some hollandaise M whipped up: most recipes will recommend serving them with a thick sauce for dipping, as if you can use the leaves like corn chips. You can’t.

I expected the taste would be somewhere between marinaded artichoke hearts and asparagus. It’s not. They’re not bad, but they’re not so flavoursome as to justify the work you put into pulling them apart. Maybe ours were unusually underdeveloped; maybe it’s too early in the spring for them? But there was a lot of work for not very much reward. Okay, you see how big they were? This is the pile of nibbled-and-scraped leaves left over:

Petal pile-up

As you can tell if you compare the before and after pictures, there’s nearly a 1:1 ratio of prepared artichoke to garbage. I think I might have had about two tablespoons of artichoke flesh from a whole globe. But if you bypass the leaves and go straight to the heart, you are rewarded with a sweet, soft, juicy and flavoursome snack, about the size of a walnut. The heart of the artichoke is tender and delicious. I can see why it’s the only part they bother marinading in jars. I can also see why it’s so expensive: you just have to look at how much gets discarded to get to the heart.

Holy cow that's a lotta compost

A learning experience: I think I’ll leave thistles for donkeys.

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