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Artichokes : Birth of a Choke

March 09, 1995|RUSS PARSONS

A bit of artichoke botany: The artichoke is a perennial plant, meaning that, unlike most vegetables, the plant doesn't die from season to season. In fact, artichokes commonly spend from six years to eight years--sometimes as long as 10 years--in the field.

The artichoke is a close relative of the cardoon. Both are members of the genus Cynara . In fact, there is some disagreement among botanists whether the artichoke is truly a different species ( Cynara scolymus ) or merely a domesticated version of the cardoon ( C. cardunculas ssp. scolymus ). At any rate, if you've eaten cardoon, you know that the fleshy, celery-like stalk has a distinct artichoke flavor.

With the artichoke, the point isn't the stalk (though you certainly shouldn't discard the stems), but the flower head atop the stalk. The hard "leaves" are actually bracts--something between a leaf and a petal. The artichoke heart is the fleshy receptacle of the bud. And the fuzz in the choke? Those are the artichoke's gazillion teeny flowers.

Each central stalk produces one primary bud (which weighs from a pound to a pound and a half), several secondaries (roughly a third of a pound and up) and many tertiary ones (the so-called "baby" artichokes).

A single artichoke plant will bear central stalks repeatedly, as many as a dozen in a year.

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