Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Keeping Up With The Cardoons


On the farm, the summer months have been full of surprises.  Although we have truly enjoyed learning about the vegetables we know and love, it's pretty amazing to learn about those we knew nothing about.  This week was no exception as we got our first experience with cardoons.  What's a cardoon you ask?

A Cardoon (Cynara Cardunculus) is a cousin of the almost identical looking artichoke plant.  Although both produce a thistle-like flower, which is quite beautiful when fully exposed, artichoke flowers are edible whereas the Cardoon leafstalk and stem are eaten instead.

But why cover up these sexy long stemmed plants in this concealing white garb?  This is the key to their deliciousness.

Alec, one of the interns at Stone Barns, explained that in order to grow edible cardoons you should blanch the leafstalks for the last 3 or 4 weeks prior to harvest by shading them from any additional sunlight.  This  inhibits further plant growth, which tenderizes the stems making them more flavorful as well.  If the cardoon absorbs more sunlight, the stems will strengthen and develop a bitter, inedible flavor.  After several weeks of blanching, you can harvest and cook the stalks.  

We wrapped each cardoon plant in a piece of Tyvek tied with twine.  

The farm is no place for solo acts so teamwork is needed as usual.  One person bunches and holds the fronds together while the other wraps and ties the tyvek.

After a quick display, Alec left Matt and I to handle the rest and although this looks simple on the surface, it is no easy task.  What you can't see from these pictures is how prickly cardoons are.  One of cardoon's defense mechanisms is tiny spine-like protrusions on the stem and leaves which can penetrate your skin; gloves were a must.  

In a few weeks the cardoons will be ready and as a big artichoke fan, I can't wait to give these a try.  The texture can be compared to celery and the flavor to artichoke, which creates a unique blend.  Some people grow cardoons simply for their beautiful purple flowers.  If anyone knows any interesting ways to prepare or include cardoon in a recipe, please share your knowledge.


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