Castroville, California, the “Artichoke Capital of the World” is located in Monterrey County short miles off of the Pacific Ocean. Being a rather quiet town as it was, causes me now to wonder how in the world I ever came to visit the place some years back given there were no celebratory parades at the time nor crowning of the Artichoke Queen whose incidental first was, Norma Jean, aka Marilyn Monroe. No kidding.
Upon further recollection, come to think of it, I do believe the big Artichoke Harvest Festival was occurring either one or two weeks before or after exploring this expanse farming community whose town seemed to run through one Main Street, definitely nothing fancy.
I did buy some sort of soft cover artichoke cookbook, which wouldn’t be uncommon for me who yes, even then always tended to make random cookbook purchases on trips and vacations.
Cookbooks always meant for heavier return luggage despite my illogical reasoning that I was also discarding things along the way too, you know like travel shampoo and conditioner bottles, toothpaste, and we all know how heavy a disposable razor can be.
Once worn, wrinkled clothing then served well wrapping around these essential treasures whose memories just sparked thought on an additional Castroville purchase at the time, some sort of knapsack style cloth fabric bag whose contents within the ribbon topped closure contained a plastic bag filled with some speckled, powdery substance whose purpose was likely a coating for frying artichokes, or otherwise, a mix for a dipping sauce. God Bless the former gift recipient on that one.
The area climate in the artichoke region of Castroville, Monterrey area, is indicated as prime for producing these green bulbs, not too cold, not too warm, sunny, then not sunny.
Notice in the previous sentence how I described the climate of Monterrey, California, including the words, not too warm, and please make a note of it, if this region in California happens to be on your list of travel destinations. For I cannot help but chuckle to myself on how many folks just hadn’t gotten the bulletin on this distinct cooler climate in California before packing and jetting off to a place where the use of ‘hot’ can only be associated with the fact that the natural beauty of the location is among the prettiest on earth.
They must do a whopping clothing boutique business in those parts however, for I’ve experienced not one, but two separate trips with folks who each arrived with swim suits and fancy top coverings in tow, and otherwise much too much lightweight clothing.
One woman most stubbornly never removed her east coast raincoat for five days busied cursing the misty, spritzing weather, loudly barking like the seals set on the craggy rock formations jutted above the chilling water. I fear she missed the magnificence surrounding her. I would rather have sprung for a new outfit and wish she would have too.
What never seems to be commonly answered among many foods, and in this case, artichokes, beckons the question, who was that very first person that looked at these yellowish, green, pink tinged, spiny, almost prickly, outer leafed bulbs, and thought, hey, this looks like good food to eat? I mean really, think about it. If it was thought to have similarities to cabbage before consuming, well I hardly want to imagine that sight, the gnawing and chewing and spitting that must have gone on to be sure, that is until they got to the real special surprise, the fuzzy, inedible choke. Yikes. This is a good reminder that when everything in life seems to be going wrong, it is worthwhile to just give it one more try, and with the artichoke, the reward at the very bottom, the tender artichoke heart with unique, flavorful qualities, sitting in wait, that one last try, displaying the best for last.
Actually, a bit curious on the matter, I learned that artichokes are indeed a very old cultivated vegetable whose origins, as early as 500 BC, go back to somewhere in the Mediterranean, with a few sites commonly sharing historically identified area possibilities as North Africa, or, Sicily. The Italians brought the artichoke to California through a large farm owner, Andrew Molera, in Castroville, identifying the possibilities of excellent profitability margins rather than previous farm crops grown.
There was even a mobster entanglement surrounding artichokes being forced into produce markets in New York at exorbitant prices and whose travesty was eventually put to an end under the leadership of the popular New York airport namesake, La Guardia. A small blurb outlining this scenario may be found on the kitchen project.
Each year in Spring limited amounts of artichokes begin appearing at produce markets on the east coast, bright green colored and tightly closed which is the best time to purchase them.
This year I prepared Stuffed Artichokes with Shrimp, Spinach, Mushrooms, Cheese, a good combination both appreciated and respected in my family for although artichokes are not hard to prepare, they are what I would call, fussy.
But an artichoke lover I am though, so outside of one special preparation occasion each year, bottled or canned versions, are always a pantry staple.