The artichoke is one of the oldest known foods to man. Theophrastun, an ancient Greek philosopher naturalist wrote them being grown in Italy and Sicily in 317-287 BC. The Greeks and Roman held the artichoke in high esteem. During the middle ages, it was considered to be an aphrodisiac. The word artichoke comes from the medieval Arabic word kharshuf. “Artichoke" is derived from the northern Italian word "articiocco," referring to its pine cone shape.
The Syrians consider the artichoke and the eggplant, the noblest of vegetables. The artichoke was introduced into America by the Italians near Half Moon Bay in California around 1900. Today Castroville, California is the artichoke capital of the world and is the center of all commercial production for the United States. Artichokes are picked by hand- and then packed immediately. Labor costs are responsible for 40-60% of the costs of the vegetable.
The artichoke is the flower bud of a thistle plant known as ‘ayhara scolymus’, and contains elongated stems. It is 3-5 feet long, and has indented leaves. We eat the bud of the plant. The plant spreads to about 6 feet in diameter and about 3 to 4 feet high. It has long arching leaves that give the plant a fern-like appearance. It is closely related to the cardoon. In the center of the flower bud there is a fuzzy area, known as the choke. It is inedible. The choke protects the meatiest portion of the bud, the heart. The stem of the artichoke is also edible. It is very similar in taste and texture to the heart- but usually needs to be peeled first. A typical 12 ounce artichoke has an edible portion of about 2 ounces.