I rather thought I knew about artichokes. Small, rotund and cuddly, found in expensive salads from Lenotre in Marina Mall, smothered in dressing of blandly non-specific origin and (I am most reliably informed as I write) “probably out of a can…”
It came as something of a surprise the other evening when a large, rough-hewn object, the size of a softball having been boiled upside down for exactly nine minutes was placed in front of me with a quite delicate mustard vinaigrette. I was also provided with a knife and fork, the sole purpose of the fork, it would seem, was to prop up the northern edge of the plate so as to drizzle dressing on to the south pole. I watched, cautiously. The leaves form what looks like an anticlockwise Fibonacci in several layers. One places the object upside down, the woody stem like a tree trunk, grasps a leaf, sawing as necessary since it is both tough and inedible, releasing a small quantity of flesh which one sucks out having first flavoured it with a little dressing. This, I gather is not an activity recommended for those who are about to lose their infant teeth, since the suctorial action required may very well dislodge one of them. The leaves become smaller and more fruitful as one proceeds – surely a spiritual lesson there somewhere – and finally the hay, like a perfect Mohican, is revealed. Like a stripper shedding the last item of clothing, a quick deft flourish reveals the prize, the artichoke heart, delicate and succulent. Leaves are recyclable on the compost heap, so I felt virtuous having had no meat and returning the leftovers to the ground from whence they came.