Ag Lit Bit by Diane Merrion
Have you ever heard of cardoon? Perhaps carduna rings a bell? In this growing era of eating fresh from the farm and locally grown, cardoon caused quite the stir at the Country Financial Garden during the Flower and Garden Show in March. Ag Literacy Committee Member Greg Stack was the key designer in creating a garden complete with herbs, vegetables and flowers that could be grown in anyone’s backyard. Of most interest to many visitors, however, was his planter full of cardoon. It was a vegetable I hadn’t thought about for perhaps 40 years in that I didn’t think anyone had ever eaten them or even heard of them.
As a young child of Italian heritage we anticipated carduna season at home every May, although we didn’t grow them in our garden. I’ll always recall when we’d be driving somewhere as a family and my Dad would stop along some railroad tracks or fields and we’d start pulling “weeds” that looked like rhubarb to take home for my mom to prepare. She’d take the leaf off, clean the stalks, boil them, dip them in an egg wash batter, coat with seasoned flour and fry lightly in oil. The golden brown stalks would be eaten in a flash and we’d anxiously await this treat the next time we happened to stumble upon some carduna.
No one I knew had ever heard of or eaten this weed, so it was pretty much our “Tortorice” secret. Fast forward to 2017 and this relatively unknown plant is the talk of the garden in Chicago. It’s so incredible to see the foods that we thought of as weeds, being hot commodities now. Apparently Mario Batali loves it as an ingredient and says it has a “very sexy flavor”. Not sure I’d describe it that way, but who am I to judge his description?!
Cardoon fun facts: They grow wild in North America especially in farm fields and wild fields. They are ripe for picking in May. The Cardoon or Artichoke Thistle is a member of the Aster family. The Cardoon is high in folate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and, fiber.