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A Showcase Plant With a ‘Very Sexy Flavor’

I’m dreaming of having cardoons again – I’m not sure how they will be appreciated in the community garden, but I’ve started some plants from seed and plan on planting them this spring.

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“What is that growing in your garden?” I hear that a lot from people who see my large vegetable garden for the first time. What they are referring to is a huge plant with enormous spiky leaves that looks like a giant, pre-historic thistle.

The plant is cardoon. Cardoon is not a common plant in these parts. I purchased a little start from Prairie Trail Farm a few years ago. The name intrigued me. That it was a plant I had never heard of before intrigued me. The description intrigued me. Little did I know that this very small plant in a very small pot would grow to be taller than a person.In seed catalogs, cardoon is described as a Mediterranean herb related to the artichoke. I have always liked artichoke, even as a child. I know that sounds weird; children don’t always like strange vegetables, so I must have been one very strange child. I tried growing artichoke my first two summers here in Goshen with not much success. So when I saw the little plant in the greenhouse and read that it tastes like artichoke, I knew I needed to try it.

Though the flower buds (which look like little artichokes) are edible, it is the stalks that are cooked and eaten. Cooking cardoon is a somewhat time-consuming process. The stalks can be bitter. In order to diminish that bitter taste, you need to peel the stalks, removing the spines, and cook for at least a half hour with some lemon juice. Once the stalks are prepared, they can be used in a variety of recipes. We’ve made a casserole using cardoon and used it in vegetarian lasagna.

Even though we don’t eat a lot of cardoon, I still love having it in the garden.

It is such a striking plant. And I love that it comes back year after year. Right now, only kale and cardoon are still growing in the vegetable garden, so it is the perfect time to go in search of good recipes for cardoon. I would welcome any suggestions.

If you need an incentive to try growing and cooking cardoon, here is a quote by chef Mario Batali from  “The Babbo Cookbook”:

Cardoons are one of my all-time fave vegetables because of their very sexy flavor.

It is not every day that you get to try a vegetable with a sexy flavor. If that intrigues you, I have some cardoon I can give you to try.

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