Did you know that, amongst other things, that this is the month of the artichoke? I didn’t till the other day when I discovered it on my Ultimate Blog Challenge mail! I did know however, being a foodie, that there are 2 types of artichoke, the globe and the Jerusalem.

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The globe artichoke  (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) is a perennial plant. It is a thistle of the genus Cynara  which originates around the Mediterranean. It grows to somewhere around 1.4 – 2 m (4.6 – 6.6 ft) tall, with graceful, arching, deeply lobed, silvery, greyish-green leaves. The flowers develop as a large head from an edible bud with a number of triangular scales; these individual florets are purple. The edible portions of the buds consist  of ‘the heart’, which is mainly the fleshy lower portions of each bract and the base; the numerous florets in the centre of the bud is called ‘the choke’ or ‘beard’. These are inedible in older, larger flowers, but utterly delicious, with melted butter, in immature ones.

In North Africa, they still grow in the wild, but cultivated seeds of globe artichoke were discovered in Roman ruin excavations in Egypt. The name comes from the Arabic, ardishoki, meaning ‘ground thorny’ but in Sicily, where they have been cultivated since the Ancient Greeks, they are known by the Greek word kaktos. The Romans knew them as carduus, which is almost certainly where the name for the naturally occurring variant of the same species, the cardoon, comes from (Cynara carduculus).

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Most of us like to eat a globe artichoke with either melted butter or hollandaise sauce but did you know you can drink it too? It is the principal flavour of a drink known as  Cynar. It is either drunk neat, on the rocks, or as a Cin Cyn cocktail, a version of the Negroni, that substitutes Cynar for Campari. You also might like to know that the globe artichoke has medicinal properties.It is highly antioxidant,  and a good digestive aid, because it increases bile flow and aids liver function through the production of cynarin. It also decreases the risk of coronary heart disease and arteriosclerosis, by lowering blood cholesterol.

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The Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is a species of sunflower, native to North America. It has many names; sunroot, sunchoke, earth apple,  topinambour, or (for reasons that soon become clear) as fartichoke. It grows from Canada in the north, as far west as North Dakota, and as far south as Florida and Texas. It is a pretty plant but is grown  more particularly for its tuber, which is one of the most delicious vegetables, even though it has somewhat less elegant side-effects.

It is a herbaceous perennial plant of between 1.5 – 3m (4 ft 10 in – 9 ft 10 in). It has rough, hairy leaves that grow opposite one another on the stem. These are large and oval at the base and become progressively smaller and narrower, the nearer the flower head they get. The flower is a sunburst of yellow, with between 10-20 petals. The tubers are elongated and bumpy, look a little like root ginger, and are about 7.5 – 10 cm long (3 – 3.9 ins). They can be brown, white, red or purple in colour.

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These artichokes contain about 10% protein, have almost no starch, no oil whatsoever and are rich in inulin, which when broken down becomes fructose. That  is what accounts for their sweet flavour and why Jerusalem artichokes are a good food choice for diabetics, because fructose is more easily tolerated.

It is a bit of a mystery as to how the Jerusalem artichoke got its name, since it has no connection to the place and it is not actually an artichoke.  When Italians settled in America, they called the plant girasole, the Italian word for sunflower, and over time this got bastardized to Jerusalem. Or maybe the founding fathers thought of the new world as their new Jerusalem and named their vegetable for it.

It was first cultivated in North America by the Native American tribes and was bought back to Europe as early as 1605. In 2002 it was cited as the best soup-making vegetable in the Nice Festival for the Heritage of French Cuisine. So why don’t you start eating it in 2013? I like mine best, sliced finely, sauteed in butter, with a sprinkling of garlic, bay leaves and a squeeze of lemon juice (go check Jamie Oliver’s recipe). Fancy cooking me some?

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