I really do love artichokes. I love chicken with artichokes and olives, steamed artichokes, sauteed baby ones, fried artichoke hearts, artichokes on pizza and in pasta. It's a serious love affair we have, me and the artichoke and it all started many, many years ago in our backyard...
The house I grew up in was my Dad's labor of love. He bought this property out in the country, acted as his own general contractor (people who do this do it like my Dad...ONCE) and moved us out of the city. We had about 3 1/2 acres. Our house sat on the top of a really big hill; I think technically it's called a bluff. When the leaves were gone, we could see the Broad River. At the bottom of the hill were fields (the flood plain); we had vegetables, the guy with the property behind us had cows. You could hike across our field with an inner tube and hop in the river. We could ride bikes, build forts, have deer run right past us, paint our faces with blood root, play kickball barefooted on our dirt roads and go down to the pond to fish for bream with our cane poles. When it started getting dark, my Mom would ring this brass bell mounted outside our garage and every kid in the neighborhood knew it was time to go home. It was a pretty damn fine place to grow up.
My parents' master bedroom had a porch that overlooked the hill. One afternoon, Katherine and I were running around doing who-knows-what when we came around to the backyard. Mom was just coming out onto that porch with a platter of food. We came up to see what the snack was. That's when I first laid eyes on artichokes. They were simply steamed with little dipping bowls of melted butter. Beautiful, exotic, crazy! So, we pulled up a chair and had Mom and Dad teach us how to dip and scrape. That's what started it all. It actually became a recurring event. We would ask for artichokes in the grocery store so we could all meet on Mom and Dad's porch to eat them together. It's a good memory.
When I was in the 3rd grade, my Dad had a business associate who offered us his house in Palm Beach. Not West Palm, or around Palm, but the actual Palm Beach where the Pulitzers and other filthy rich oddballs live. My Mom is very creative and decided it would be cool for us to take the train to Florida. So the plan was that we'd all go down by train and then drive one of Mr. Dial's cars back to Columbia. This place was unbelievable. It had a loggia. I'd never seen a loggia before. Just beyond that was our own private, heated pool surrounded by hedges that were about 30 feet high. The kitchen was enormous The "servant's kitchen and servant's quarters" (yeah, they really had that) were such an oddity. The entire house's floors were marble and all the couch cushions were stuffed with down, so they looked like pillows filled with air. When you turned on the light in the bathroom, music started playing. And, they had some state-of-the-art TV network called "Home Box Office." You get the picture. It was Richie Rich's house and we had it all to ourselves!
Anyway, we ventured out into town and found this little restaurant that had a garden courtyard in the back where you could eat lunch. We started perusing the selections and lo and behold...this place had whole, steamed artichokes on the menu! Thank ya Jesus! Katherine and I both ordered artichokes as our lunch. The waiter couldn't believe it. We were drawing stares...two kids, a 1st grader and a 3rd grader are sitting here in the garden eating artichokes? Alert the media, phone the neighbors. So, this is where we had lunch almost every day of our stay in Palm Beach. Another great memory.
As time progressed, I continued my relationship with this cute little thistle. When I discovered a bag of baby artichokes at my Publix, I wanted to kiss the produce man. Up until then, I'd never found them in Columbia, so I'd only read about them. When the Whitlarks opened the Pizza Man I was overjoyed because we finally had a local pizza joint who was offering artichokes. An antipasto plate is incomplete without 'chokes, marinated or not.
In summary, I love artichokes. I hope I've managed to convey that sentiment to you.