Thistles, nettles, chestnuts and prickly pear/cactus have formidable defence systems. Hard shells and sharp spines act as a deterrent to food-gatherers. The harsh climates and more difficult growing conditions that these plants can endure thus tend to make them a food for the less prolific periods of food production, such as autumn and winter.
Artichokes are effectively the flower of a specific thistle. Along with cardoon and nettle, whose leaves and stems are edible, they are a strong part of European cuisine.
Most of these plants have other functions besides being food. The stamen from the cardoon can be used as a coagulant in cheese production, as an alternative to animal-based rennet. Thistle is used in many fabrics.
My favourite preparation of artichoke is raw – shaved into a salad. In Italy the in-season tender artichokes are picked leaf by leaf, dipped in olive oil and salt before being dragged through the teeth to enjoy the tender inside of each petal.
This artichoke preserve takes advantage of the very short harvest period of artichokes. If they are left on the plant for too long, they become very hard work for little return.
Once the preserve is ready, it’s simply a matter of opening the jar to add it to a salad or soup, or you can even serve it alongside butter and bread as a snack. Artichokes also make an excellent dip when chopped up or ground using a mortar and pestle with olives and herbs.