This, dear readers, is a cardoon. It is, they tell me, edible, although I have never tried one. I bought this plant at Colonial Williamsburg as a tiny potted seedling after reading some lovely coffee table book on ornamental vegetable gardening which said something about cardoons offering wonderful vertical elements to the potager. The book forgot to mention that you must do this to your cardoon before you may eat it:
Blanching. I have never blanched a plant, as I think it may be a violation of some international treaty for the treatment of captive plants. It at least sounds like something I would do in a kitchen or that some fainting maiden would do when confronted with a rapacious villian. But a cardoon is no fainting maiden – they are spiny, spikey, thistley plants that can hold their own. I planted my cardoon among the strawberries and chives after both were past, and it shot up and out, four feet tall and five feet wide, and then in August threw out spectacular purple thistle flowers. If a cardoon were an artichoke, which it almost is, you would eat the thistle heads, which would have been comparatively easy. Instead, you eat the stalks, and the flowers actually indicate (I found out too late) that you have watied too long to eat your cardoon.
Sadly, I cut down my cardoon two weeks ago, put its dried thistles in a vase and the stalks the compost heap. And there beneath the severed stalk was a cluster of small cardoonlets. I have no idea if they are seedlings, offsets, rogue stalks, or what, but as they began to shoot up and out I figured I’d try to blanche and eat them.
Just before the first frost (or in three weeks, whichever comes first) I will free my captive cardoons, cut them down, and eat them. They better be tasty.