Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cardoon Festival

Saturday was the first annual (?) Cardoon Festival at Hangman Hill. We planted cardoons (Cynara cardunculus), a member of the thistle family, for their "succulent leaf stems" that taste very similar to artichokes. "If you love artichokes, you will love cardoons ", so they say. That was all we needed to plant cardoon seeds in early summer.

By September the cardoons were nearly 4' high, and with cool autumn temperatures in the air, Bruno and Nick (Bruno's father) began the harvest process by wrapping the plants in burlap to blanch the stems. The blanching process takes place while the plant is still in the ground, and protects the stems from light. This is necessary for removing any bitterness and to reveal the sweet flavors that make this vegetable a gormet gardener's favorite.
Cardoon's at last!

It was this "big" (until it got away?)

So, in early October when Jerry(Sheri's father) came for a visit, it seemed like the obvious time to harvest and sample the cardoons. So with spade in hand we dug the cardoons, and Bruno carefully stewed and sauted them. Our good friends Jen and Mark were game for trying the cardoons, so they came for a dinner that started with cardoons and steamed artichokes (for comparision), followed by Chicken Mirabella (this is another blog entry!). Don't let those smiling faces below fool you, the cardoons were terrible! Bruno's reaction says it best. The cardoons were possibly the worst tasting vegetable any of us had ever had. Perhaps we need to hone our garden blanching skills, or move on to another unique vegetable for next year.


Andrew said...

Thanks guys, this post made my day :)

Anonymous said...

Glad we missed the cardoon delights and got to sample the mexican food ones instead.

niels said...

I have seen those cardoons and wondered about them. Good thing you tried them out first. Methinks something went wrong with them in the ground or on the stove. I recommend you attempt them again next year....



Unknown said...

My Sicilian father picked wild Burdock which is smaller and similar in flavor to Cardoon every Spring here in the fields of our small WNY town. In fact most Italians here had their own secret spot where they were convinced the best burdock grew and would visit several times in order to harvest their "crop" early before the stalks grew too large.
Each Italian kitchen prepared the burdock to their own specifications. My Mom would spend literally hours scrubbing it in the sink to remove the light fur on the stalks then blanche it. The stalks were then tossed in seasoned flour, fried in olive oil till most of their moisture was extracted (takes practice to know when to halt the frying process) and then eggs beaten with grated Parmesan cheese were poured over the savory stalks to produce omelets that we waited for breathlessly every Spring! Nothing satisfied more than hot burdock right out of the pan or made into a simple sandwich on soft white Italian bread. Pure heaven!
Some kitchens breaded their burdock stalks with breadcrumbs etc and panfried til the burdock were french fry like. Another delicacy!
Large commercially grown Cardoon can also be prepared in the same styles with pleasing results. They do lack the delicate flavor of the wild grown burdock but they are similarly satisfying with their artichoke like flavor.
I''ve thought many times about having a Burdock Fest but my Dad like so many of his Italian buddies are now passed and not many here know about Burdock and would probably scoff at the thought of eating "weeds" that like to grown in questionable locales.
Good luck with your festival I hope my story will help you find more enjoyable ways to enjoy the wonder that is Burdock/Cardoon!