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>Thistles for Dinner

March 15, 2011

>It’s the oddest thing, really. Who came up with the idea in the first place? I’ve always wondered.

They must have been really, really hungry.

There is nothing inviting about an artichoke. Anything, frankly, with “choke” in the name is kind of a culinary turn-off.

It’s a California-thing I suppose. One of those regional oddities that doesn’t appear much out of state simply because they only grow in Mediterranean climates. For the US, that pretty much means right here in my backyard. (You hate me now, don’t you?)

I first remember eating them in Virginia, though. We would be sitting at the formica table in the kitchen with the blue and green teapot wallpaper and the avocado fridge. She served them steamed, with melted butter in heavy, brown pottery dipping bowls, with little stubby handles. Dipping anything is fun, when you’re three.

I wonder how she even got them, fresh, back there, back then, in the days ehe could only get tortillas frozen or canned. Somehow, she did, and as anyone knows who’s ever had a ‘choke (done right) – we were hooked.

Even my kids, who fuss about chunks in their peanut butter and jelly, and find ranch dressing abhorrent, adore them. Twice last week found us fighting over the last of six I steamed for dinner, leaves piling up in bowls in the center of the table. Carefully cutting out the choke while the boys look on anxiously.

In that instant I am three again, and my mom is alive, and we are talking and laughing around the dinner table. Childhood and family, dipped in melted butter.

I love introducing the ‘choke to out-of-towners. Unsupervised, they put entire leaves in their mouths only to find them entirely undigestable. No, no – we laugh – you scrape the flesh off with your teeth!

You do what?

Scrape them. Like this.

We demonstrate, and the looks on their faces make us laugh all the more.

Such a funny thing, really. But when you get to the heart – the precious, hard-gotten center that has a flavor that is beyond words…and a little garlic mayonnaise…

Well, you’ll just have to find out for yourself.

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