When Granny* first taught me how to eat an artichoke, I was perturbed that I had to go through all those layers of armor just to get to that mushroom cap of a heart. Frankly, at 13, I thought the best part was the butter dipping. Until last night, as I began instructing my own teenagers on the ‘art’ of eating one, I never realized how much artichokes remind me of old people: thin-skinned, thorny & tough on the outside, multi-layered, increasingly soft towards the middle, and way, down deep inside is a heart so delectable it is protected by a Fort Knox of cellulose.
“Artichokes,” the dictionary also tells me, “have a very, long growing season and prefer mild climates.” Sounds like old folks to me. On first glance, you really don’t want to get too close to them. (The artichokes, that is). The two I had purchased were hard as rocks & my youngest, in particular, was skeptical. After steaming them, though, we began with the scrawny, meatless, tough outer stalks. They were scaly and mottled with spots just like the skin of, yeah, you know. My oldest marveled at the design & symmetry of their leaves as my youngest impatiently rolled her eyes. “Ouch!” she said suddenly. “You never said there were thorns on these!”
The truth is I had forgotten. It’s funny how one forgets the barbs as time passes. Now, we peeled our way deep towards the center where the petals are lighter and softer, and the flesh thicker with taste. Down we dove, eating through the tender, inner layers, lined with purple edges that form a whitish curve inwards. “Now grab hold of that section and pull,” I commanded. My oldest tugged lightly. “No. Really pull it hard and kind of wiggle it.” Suddenly it broke free. There was the carpet of white, cilia-like, thin fibers hovering tightly over the heart. Indeed, it resembled a full crown of white hair. ”Is this the choke? Will I choke if I eat it?” my youngest queried. “Not if we scrape it away.”
Patiently, we took a spoon and carved the hairs away until the heart was smooth. My oldest savored the morsel with a touch of lemon and salt and pronounced it, “Pretty good.” My youngest, not overly fond of any vegetable, said it was, “Okay, but that sure is a lot of work for that little bit of food.” Yes. So is life. So also is learning to appreciate the old folks among us. Both are journeys well worth taking. For the record, I find them deliciously splendid and rich at heart!. (The old folks that is.) *From “Kissing Tomatoes,” by Helen Hudson. http://www.helen-hudson.com)