Sundays are always kind of a strange day for me. Half rest and reflection and the other half chaos of trying to get ready for the coming work week. I’m very fortunate. I love my day job (even though it’s not my passion) and I have great coworkers, but it also means that five days a week, the demands of the day job dominate my schedule.
Surfing for inspiration for the week’s writing, I came across a photo of an artichoke in bloom. All too often, I forget the strange, scaled, vegetable is actually a flower, a beautiful thistle we devour as a delicacy.
The first time I ate artichokes was in 1999, not long after the roommate and I moved into the old house. Though I’d seen them in the grocery store and in movies where elegant ladies talked of them being divine, I’d never faced one on the dinner plate. They were scaled and strange looking and far too expensive for our budget when I was growing up.
I don’t know if my parents had ever eaten them, either. Possibly dad, but I’m not sure.
Dad ate chocolate covered grasshoppers and said they were delicious. I assume he tried anything and everything that was offered to him when he was in the Army. I imagine it all happened on a dare, mind you. I’m sure it was on a dare, and I’m confident he made cigarette money from people betting he wouldn’t or couldn’t do it.
Artichokes came home in the grocery basket when the roommate and I were still living on admin wages before she went back to school and became an engineer. Before I finished my degree. They were a budgetary splurge, a momentary lapse of reason in an otherwise entirely sensible grocery list because I had never had artichokes and she said I needed to have them. I remember thinking they were insanely expensive.
She made a call to her grandmother on a Sunday afternoon not much different than any other to confirm how to make them.
There were bits to be snipped off and bits to be trimmed. It seemed a very particular sort of preparation. Then, in the French way, both artichokes went into a pan of boiling water with a bit of lemon juice. About 40 minutes later, I was presented with a large thistle blossom on my plate and a bowl of melted butter.
The eating of them was a ritual all to its own. Pull off an outer leaf. Dip the base into the butter. Strip the tiny, delicious, edible bit from the fibrous leaf. This was not eating for nourishment or to fuel the body. This was eating for the pure, decadent delight of nibbling down bits of heaven.
We sipped tea in the daintiest cups we owned, and the stack of stripped leaves grew on the plate between us. Then suddenly, the roommate told me to stop.
We had come to the choke, so named I assume, for the spines that would lodge painfully in your throat if you tried to eat them. She showed me how to carefully clean the choke out of the heart of the artichoke with a spoon, removing all the spiny bits until only the artichoke heart remained.
This artichoke heart bore no resemblance to the canned artichoke heart quarters readily available in the grocery store, which I’ve become familiar with in the intervening years. Canned artichokes sometimes contain too many of the tough outer leaves. By the time we ate our way down to them, only the subtle, sublime, center remained. We dunked them generously in butter and savored every last bite slowly, because who knew when we would be able to afford such a thing again.
We’ve had them several times over the years, though not with anything resembling regularity. When we’ve indulged, it’s been just as they came into season when the price dips the lowest. Each time, it’s like nibbling a tender little piece of heaven, nipped from the edges of fibrous leaves, like a Sunday Afternoon both turbulant and tranquil, a space set aside to prepare for the coming week.