Thursday, June 28, 2012

At a Deadly Pace, It Came from Outer Space ...

...and this is how the message ran
A Triffid?
Is it a Triffid?

Just what is that thing?

Audrey II?
Cardoon Flower

None of the above. It’s a cardoon,  or Cynara cardunculus, and it comes from Southern Europe and Africa, and we grow it here as a part of our efforts with the John Brown House.

One We Started in late March in the Greenhouse - This was taken on June 26th

Back in 2008 and 2009, after having been contacted by the local Historic Society about establishing an historic kitchen garden at the John Brown house, Bob Kessler and I did the initial research before presenting to the Master Gardeners and asking if there was enough interest to proceed.  Obviously, there was, but during the beginning research phase, I came across references to growing Cardoon.  I had never heard of it before, but the name itself was intriguing enough for me, so Dr. Doris Goldman, curator of the Renfrew Historic 4-square garden, and professional consultant for our efforts with the John Brown House was happy to provide seed, and give us the opportunity to try to grow the vegetable.  It's a perennial plant, but for Zone 8 and above, so it's usually grown in our climate as an annual, not dissimilar to the way we grow tomatoes as annuals, even though botanically they're perennial. 

Cardoon Bloom - My Hand for Perspective

This was taken by Linda about a month ago

Another by Linda about two weeks ago
With the cardoon plant, the stalks are the part that is eaten. They are blanched (hidden from the sun via straw, or earth for several weeks) toward the end of the growing season, like what is done with celery, then harvested and used as a vegetable. Here's a recipe from 1868:

Cookery of the cardoon (Field & Garden Vegetables of America 1868) History
When a cardoon is to be cooked, its heart, and the solid, not piped, stalks of the leaves are to be cut into pieces, about six inches long, and boiled like any other vegetable, in pure water, not salt and water, till they are tender. They are then to be carefully deprived of the slime and strings which will be found to cover them; and having thus been thoroughly cleaned, are to be plunged in cold water, where they must remain till they are wanted for the table; they are then taken out and heated with white sauce, marrow, or any other of the adjuncts recommended in cookery books. The process just described is for the purpose of rendering them white, and depriving them of a bitterness which is peculiar to them; if neglected, the cardoons will be black, not white, as well as disagreeable.
- Fiering Burr Field and Garden Vegetables of America (Boston, 1868), p. 165
Hmmm...Perhaps that explains why it fell out of favor.

Flower Bud
In our climate, it almost never reaches the stage of flowering and producing seed, except on the rare occasions when the winter is mild enough, or the plant is protected enough, to maintain zone 8 conditions, and allow for second and subsequent year growth. The winter of 2011/12 was just such an occasion, and this is the result – a spectacular display.

We'll be able to save seeds from this fella, which should give us up to seven years of viable seed to use for our efforts at Renfrew and the John Brown House.

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