Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Artichokes: A Brief History

According to an Aegean legend and praised in song by the poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, the first artichoke was a lovely young girl who lived on the island of Zinari. The god, Zeus was visiting his brother Poseidon one day when, as he emerged from the sea, he spied a beautiful young mortal woman. She did not seem frightened by the presence of a god, and Zeus seized the opportunity to seduce her. He was so pleased with the girl, who's name was Cynara, that he decided to make her a goddess, so that she could be nearer to his home on Olympia. Cynara agreed to the promotion, and Zeus anticipated the trysts to come, whenever his wife Hera was away. However, Cynara soon missed her mother and grew homesick. She snuck back to the world of mortals for a brief visit. After she returned, Zeus discovered this un-goddess-like behavior. Enraged, he hurled her back to earth and transformed her into the plant we know as the artichoke.
It origins dates back to the time of the Greek philosopher and naturalist, Theophrastus (371-287 B.C.), who wrote of them being grown in
Italy and Sicily.
Pedanius Dioscorides (40-90 A.D.), a 1st century A.D. Greek physician of Anazarbus, Cilicia, wrote about artichokes at the time of Christ. While
traveling as a surgeon with the Roman army of Emperor Nero, he collected information on the remedies of the period and wrote a work on The Greek Herbal of Dioscorides. Originally written in Greek, Dioscorides’ herbal was later translated into Latin as De Materia Medica. It remained the authority in medicinal plants for over 1500 years.
Ancient Greeks and Romans considered artichokes a delicacy and an aphrodisiac. In Ancient
Greece, the artichoke was attributed to being effective in securing the birth of boys.
In 77 A.D., the Roman naturalist Caius Plinius Secundus, called Pliny the Elder (23–79 A.D.), called the choke "one of the earth’s monstrosities." Evidently he and his colleagues continued to enjoy eating them. Wealthy Romans enjoyed artichokes prepared in honey and vinegar, seasoned with cumin, so that the treat would be available year round.
Beginning about 800 A.D., North African Moors begin cultivating artichokes in the area of Granada, Spain, and another Arab group, the Saracens, became identified with chokes in Sicily. This may explain why the English word artichoke is derived from the Arab, "al’qarshuf" rather than from the Latin, "cynara.". Between 800 and 1500, it’s probable that the artichoke was improved and transformed, perhaps in monastery gardens, into the plant we would recognize today.
Artichokes were first cultivated at Naples around the middle of the 15th century and gradually spread to other sections of
Europe. After Rome fell, artichokes became scarce but re-emerged during the Renaissance in 1466 when the Strozzi family brought them from Florence to Naples.
1500s - In the 16th century, Catherine de Medici (1519-1589), married to King Henry II (1519-1559), of France at the age of 14, is credited with making artichokes famous. She is said to have introduced them to France when she married King Henry II in the mid 16th century. She was quoted as sayig, "If one of us had eaten artichokes, we would have been pointed out on the street. Today young women are more forward than pages at the court."
The chronicler, Pierre de L'Estoile, in his Journal of June 19, 1576 talks about the occasion of the wedding of Marquis de Lomenie and Mlle de Martigues, "The Queen Mother ate so m
uch she thought she would die, and was very ill with diarrhoea. They said it was from eating too many artichoke bottoms and the combs and kidney of cockerels, of which she was very fond."
From the "Book of Nature," by Dr. Bartolomeo Boldo in 1576, "it has the virtue of . . . provoking Venus for both men and women; for women making them more desirable, and helping the men who are in these matters rather tardy."
1600s - Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery contains a 17th-century
recipe entitled "To Make Hartichoak Pie."
1800s - French immigrants brought artichokes to the United States in 1806 when they settled in the Louisiana Territory. But though the first commercial artichoke fields were developed in Louisiana, by 1940 they had mysteriously disappeared. They were later established in Louisiana by French colonists and in California in the Monterey area by the Spaniards during the later 1800s.
Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832), poet and dramatist, shunned the artichoke. In his book
Travels Through Italy, Goethe says, "the peasants eat thistles," a practice he could never adopt.
20th century - In 1922 Andrew Molera, a landowner in the Salinas Valley of Monterey County, California, just south of San Francisco, decided to lease his land previously dedicated to the growing of sugar beets to Italian farmers that he encouraged to try growing the "new" vegetable. His reasons were economic as artichokes were fetching high prices and farmers could pay Molera triple what the sugar company did for the same land.
By the early 20th century, Fannie Farmer noted in her ninth edition of her cookbook that California artichokes were selling in Boston for 30 to 40 cents each.
In the 1920s, Ciro Terranova "Whitey" (1889-1938), a member of the mafia and known as the "Artichoke King," began his monopoly of the artichoke market by purchasing all the produce shipped to New York from California at $6 a crate. He created a produce company and resold the artichokes at 30 to 40 percent profit. Not only did he terrorize distributors and produce merchants, he even launched an attack on the artichoke fields from Montara to Pescadero, hacking down the plants with machetes in the dead of night. These "artichoke wars" led the Mayor or New York, Fiorello La Guardia, to declare "the sale, display, and possession" of artichokes in New York illegal. Mayor La Guardia publicly admitted that he himself loved the vegetable and after only one week he lifted the ban. (references: whatscookingamerica.net & oceanmist.com)

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