All hail the artichoke: Inside Calif.’s strangest food festival

WEBVTT AND HOPEFULLY, A BELLY FULL OF ARTICHOKES. REPORTER: I DON’T KNOW ABOUT A BELLY FULL, BUT I GOT MY HANDFUL RIGHT NOW. GREAT WEATHER, GREAT FOOD, WHAT MORE COULD YOU ASK FOR? FOR DAY ONE, HERE IS WHAT I LEARNED. HERE AT THE ARTICHOKE, IT IS ALL ABOUT EMBRACING THE ARTICHOKE. HOW TO EAT, FRIED ARTICHOKES, PLAIN JANE. >> REALLY GOOD REPORTER: OR COVERED IN SAUCE, >> RANCH DRESSING AND TAPPATILLO IVE NEVER HAD IT THIS WAY BEFORE SO IM VERY EXCITED REPORTER: THE 59TH ANNUAL ARTICHOKE FOOD AND WINE FESTIVAL, WELCOMES POTENTIAL ARTICHOKE LOVERS TO TRY SOMETHING NE >> SOUNDED LIKE A GOOD OPPORTUNITY TO TRY DIFFERENT FORMS OF ARTICHOKE WHICH YOU DON’T REALLY GET VERY OFTEN . REPORTER: LIKE ARTICHOKE ICE CREAM, DESCRIBE IT FOR ME YEA LET ME TRY IT AGAIN FIRST WE ITS GOT THE VANILLA TASTE TO IT ITS GOT JUST A SLIGHT HINT OF THE ARTICHOKE ITS GOT A LITTLE TEXTURE TO IT. REPORTER: NEARLY ALL OF THE COUNTRY’S ARTICHOKE SUPPLY COMES FROM CALIFORNIA, WITH CASTROVILLE, OF COURSE, HOME TO THE LARGEST ARTICHOKE GROWER IN THE UNITED STATES. >> THIS IS ONE OF THE FEW AREAS IN THE ENTIRE STATE THAT ACTUALLY CAN GROW ARTICHOKES REPORTER: SO ORGANIZERS ARE HOPING WHEN FESTIVALGOERS GO GROCERY SHOPPING AGAIN, THEY’LL KEEP THIS EXPERIENCE IN MIND, EVEN TACKLE A RECIPE THEY FROM THE COOKING DEMOS. >> YYEAA I JUST FOUND OUT I HAVE ARTICHOKES IN THE BACKYARD THE LADY THAT OWNED THE PLACE USED TO GROW ARTICHOKES MY FRIEND SAID LETS GO TO THE ARTICHOKE FESTIVAL SO YOU THINK YOULL MAKE — SO HERE WE ARE. REPORTER: SO YOU THINK YOULL MAKE AN ARTICHOKE SAUSAGE SANDWICH. >> YEA, AND A COUPLE OF OTHER THINGS TOO, SOME GRILLED WE GON SEE WHAT ALL RECIPES WE CAN COME UP WITH. REPORTER: SPEAKING OF RECIPES, THERE ARE TAKE HOME VERSIONS FOR ALL THE DIFFERENT DISHES YOU SEE HERE AT THE FESTIVAL AND IF YOU CAN’T FIND THEM HERE THEY ARE ALSO POSTED ONLINE, SO NO EXCUSES NOT TO TR TRY SOME, TAKE ON THE RECIPES. NO EXCUSES THIRD –. CHRISTOPHER: THE CASTROVILLE ARTICHOKE FESTIVAL CONTINUES TOMORROW AT

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Artichoke ice cream, artichoke fashion, artichoke history: Inside California’s Castroville Artichoke Festival

It all started with Marilyn Monroe.Well, it actually started in the late 1800s when Italian immigrants brought a strange Sicilian plant with spiky edible buds with them to California’s Central Coast. But as stories go, Marilyn Monroe isn’t a bad place to start.Video Player | Sharing recipes at 59th annual Castroville Artichoke FestivalIn 1948, a still not-that-famous Monroe traveled to Monterey Bay to do a paid appearance at a jewelry store, according to Carmel Magazine, and ended up agreeing to be crowned California’s Artichoke Queen. “There are many stories about this event, with many, many different versions and details of what occurred that day and why. In fact, if published photos of Marilyn wearing the Artichoke Queen sash didn’t exist, the whole seemingly implausible episode could easily be viewed as apocryphal, an urban myth,” Michael Chatfield wrote.“One particularly far-fetched story claims that the California Artichoke & Vegetable Growers Corporation enlisted Monroe to put some shine on an industry for decades controlled by New York mobster Ciro ‘the Artichoke’ Terranova.”’ Just a handful of years later, there was another attempt to “put some shine” on the artichoke industry of the Monterey Peninsula: the 1959 launch of the Castroville Artichoke Festival, a community party to celebrate a primary source of local growers’ livelihoods. That one stuck — which is how I found myself on a cloudy Sunday afternoon, standing in the middle of the Monterey Fair Grounds, surrounded by thousands of people adorned in various degrees of vegetable swag. We were all there for one reason: to celebrate the artichoke, an under-loved vegetable that’s surprisingly important to California agriculture. Important enough, actually, to be the offical state vegetable. The area around Castroville, I learned at the Artichoke Festival, supplies nearly 100% of the country’s artichokes. Seventy-seven percent of them come from Ocean Mist Farms, which has been growing artichokes since 1924 and has farms in Castroville and Coachella, where the winter artichokes come from, which ensures year-round availability.Maybe you think artichokes are a one-trick food. You steam them and then dip them in something. At this festival, the preparations weren’t exactly endless, but they felt that way. In the course of a few hours, I ate deep-fried artichoke hearts, a creamy artichoke-tomato bisque, artichoke cheesecake (surprisingly good!), an artichoke cupcake (unsurprisingly awful) and both chocolate and pistachio artichoke-infused ice creams. Those weren’t so bad, if you could get past the artichoke hairs sticking out of them. But one of the things I learned at the festival is that I am strictly a savory artichoke stan. Why celebrate a vegetable? Well, first off, Gilroy does it, and if this state can throw a giant party for garlic, then nothing’s off the table (or, since we’re talking about food, I guess everything is on the table). And if the drama surrounding this year’s now-in-Stockton festival is any indication, people love a food festival. But if I’m being honest, as a California transplant I see a harsh truth that people born and raised in California don’t see: You don’t fully appreciate how lucky you are to have the bounty of artichokes that you have. They’re everywhere here, especially on the Central Coast, where a grilled artichoke with some kind of dipping aioli is on practically every menu, from Chez Panisse to Buellton’s The Hitching Post II, where smoky artichokes prepared in the Santa Maria barbecue style start practically every meal. In other parts of the country, we’re lucky to get the occasional bin of bruised, browned artichokes in the grocery store, and to sporadically see one offered as a special in a restaurant. This is why I remember my first artichoke so clearly. I was eight or nine years old, having lunch with my grandmother at her favorite restaurant on the drive between her house in New York and mine in Massachusetts: Friends & Company in Madison, Connecticut. “Artichokes!” she exclaimed a little too loudly when she saw the appetizer special on the board. She then explained to me that they’re delicious vegetables that you eat by pulling off the leaves (I now know they’re called “petals”), and then dipping them in drawn butter. “They’re a delicacy,” she said. “You can’t find them very often.” Recently, I tried to explain to a friend born in Berkeley that outside of California, artichokes are just not a thing, at least not nearly as pervasive as they are here. She was genuinely astonished. Which is why I repeat: You Californians know your avocados and your citrus are the best in the country, but you are so, so lucky to have artichokes. Everywhere else, the only thing we can count on reliably is sad artichoke hearts in cans. Technically, the festival is the Castroville Artichoke Festival, even though it’s been held in Monterey for the last several years. This year is the 62nd event (not consecutive, because of COVID), and for most of its history the festival shut down some streets in Castroville, where there is a statue to the ‘choke, for the revelry. Eventually the celebration got too big and had to relocate 15 miles away to its current home. “It started in the late ‘50s as a parade for the community,” Pat Hopper said. “They had a barbecue and ate some artichokes.” Hopper is a former executive director of the California Artichoke Advisory Board, and helps organize the festival every year. (Though, I will note, Hopper was born in Pennsylvania and didn’t have her first artichoke until she moved west in the early 1980s.) Now, that festival has grown into a two-day party with popular bands, a huge shopping marketplace, kids activities, a quilt-making contest, wine tasting, a farmers’ market and dozens upon dozens of food booths serving not just artichoke creations — everything from chicken artichoke sausage to artichoke cheesecake — but all the other festival food you could ever want. There’s also an artichoke eating contest where people gobble down as much as they can in three intense (and more than a little gross) minutes. “ a little bit of promotion for the artichoke — artichokes are such a different thing and they need help, you know — so we promote the artichoke, and also when we make money it goes back to the community,” Hopper explained. A huge portion of people working the festival are from local community groups, who all get paid to be there, with the money going to their organizations. The 2021 event gave more than $45,000 to local schools and nonprofits, according to the Artichoke Festival website. People all over the festival directed me to a man in the purple shirt (they neglected to mention it was embroidered with an artichoke) who knows more about artichokes than anyone they’ve ever met. Eighty-three-year-old Lionel Handel is retired from his work in the artichoke industry, but not as an ambassador for artichoke appreciation. I found him stationed at an informational booth in the farmers’ market area, where there were tables upon tables heaped with artichokes, all selling for $1 and $2, with lots of other Central Coast vegetables. “People have a lot of misconceptions about artichokes,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is answer those questions here at the festival. I’m amazed that several hundred people I’ve talked to over the last two days here, the question mainly is, ‘How do you cook the darn things?’” When I found him, Handel was already talking to a group about how to prepare baby artichokes. His favorite way is to remove the outer petals and get down to the tender heart, then slice them and saute them in garlic and olive oil. As he explained this, he was slicing up a baby artichoke, explaining which parts to eat — then, he handed me a raw piece of one. “It doesn’t taste the same,” he said, “but it’s edible.” “If you don’t realize it,” he said, “artichokes are very good to eat.” I thought he meant flavor-wise, which, duh, but then he pulled out a nutritional chart. The vegetable has as much potassium as a banana, and a surprising amount of dietary fiber, protein and antioxidants. They’re especially good, Handel says, for lowering cholesterol and improving liver function. He was preaching the good word, but to my surprise, people were really listening. During the time I spent at his booth — maybe 20 minutes — at least a dozen people came over to chat with Handel. So I’ll ask again: Why throw a party for a vegetable? Pat Hopper would probably say it’s good for the heart in more ways than one. “You’ll notice a lot of old people working their tails off,” Hopper said. “They’ve been doing it for 20, 30, 40 years. There’s one woman who works the fry booth, she’s 84, and she’s been doing it ever since the festival started in 1959.” “They get up and work hard for the festival so they can give some money back to the community,” she added. “It really does give you a good feeling. You’re tired at the end of it — you’re more than tired, you’re beat — but you feel good because you’ve really done something.”

It all started with Marilyn Monroe.

Well, it actually started in the late 1800s when Italian immigrants brought a strange Sicilian plant with spiky edible buds with them to California’s Central Coast. But as stories go, Marilyn Monroe isn’t a bad place to start.

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Video Player | Sharing recipes at 59th annual Castroville Artichoke Festival

In 1948, a still not-that-famous Monroe traveled to Monterey Bay to do a paid appearance at a jewelry store, according to Carmel Magazine, and ended up agreeing to be crowned California’s Artichoke Queen.

“There are many stories about this event, with many, many different versions and details of what occurred that day and why. In fact, if published photos of Marilyn wearing the Artichoke Queen sash didn’t exist, the whole seemingly implausible episode could easily be viewed as apocryphal, an urban myth,” Michael Chatfield wrote.

“One particularly far-fetched story claims that the California Artichoke & Vegetable Growers Corporation enlisted Monroe to put some shine on an industry for decades controlled by New York mobster Ciro ‘the Artichoke’ Terranova.”’

Just a handful of years later, there was another attempt to “put some shine” on the artichoke industry of the Monterey Peninsula: the 1959 launch of the Castroville Artichoke Festival, a community party to celebrate a primary source of local growers’ livelihoods.

That one stuck — which is how I found myself on a cloudy Sunday afternoon, standing in the middle of the Monterey Fair Grounds, surrounded by thousands of people adorned in various degrees of vegetable swag. We were all there for one reason: to celebrate the artichoke, an under-loved vegetable that’s surprisingly important to California agriculture. Important enough, actually, to be the offical state vegetable.

The area around Castroville, I learned at the Artichoke Festival, supplies nearly 100% of the country’s artichokes. Seventy-seven percent of them come from Ocean Mist Farms, which has been growing artichokes since 1924 and has farms in Castroville and Coachella, where the winter artichokes come from, which ensures year-round availability.

Maybe you think artichokes are a one-trick food. You steam them and then dip them in something. At this festival, the preparations weren’t exactly endless, but they felt that way. In the course of a few hours, I ate deep-fried artichoke hearts, a creamy artichoke-tomato bisque, artichoke cheesecake (surprisingly good!), an artichoke cupcake (unsurprisingly awful) and both chocolate and pistachio artichoke-infused ice creams. Those weren’t so bad, if you could get past the artichoke hairs sticking out of them. But one of the things I learned at the festival is that I am strictly a savory artichoke stan.

Why celebrate a vegetable? Well, first off, Gilroy does it, and if this state can throw a giant party for garlic, then nothing’s off the table (or, since we’re talking about food, I guess everything is on the table). And if the drama surrounding this year’s now-in-Stockton festival is any indication, people love a food festival.

But if I’m being honest, as a California transplant I see a harsh truth that people born and raised in California don’t see: You don’t fully appreciate how lucky you are to have the bounty of artichokes that you have.

They’re everywhere here, especially on the Central Coast, where a grilled artichoke with some kind of dipping aioli is on practically every menu, from Chez Panisse to Buellton’s The Hitching Post II, where smoky artichokes prepared in the Santa Maria barbecue style start practically every meal.

In other parts of the country, we’re lucky to get the occasional bin of bruised, browned artichokes in the grocery store, and to sporadically see one offered as a special in a restaurant. This is why I remember my first artichoke so clearly. I was eight or nine years old, having lunch with my grandmother at her favorite restaurant on the drive between her house in New York and mine in Massachusetts: Friends & Company in Madison, Connecticut.

“Artichokes!” she exclaimed a little too loudly when she saw the appetizer special on the board. She then explained to me that they’re delicious vegetables that you eat by pulling off the leaves (I now know they’re called “petals”), and then dipping them in drawn butter. “They’re a delicacy,” she said. “You can’t find them very often.”

Recently, I tried to explain to a friend born in Berkeley that outside of California, artichokes are just not a thing, at least not nearly as pervasive as they are here. She was genuinely astonished. Which is why I repeat: You Californians know your avocados and your citrus are the best in the country, but you are so, so lucky to have artichokes. Everywhere else, the only thing we can count on reliably is sad artichoke hearts in cans.

Technically, the festival is the Castroville Artichoke Festival, even though it’s been held in Monterey for the last several years. This year is the 62nd event (not consecutive, because of COVID), and for most of its history the festival shut down some streets in Castroville, where there is a statue to the ‘choke, for the revelry. Eventually the celebration got too big and had to relocate 15 miles away to its current home.

“It started in the late ‘50s as a parade for the community,” Pat Hopper said. “They had a barbecue and ate some artichokes.”

Hopper is a former executive director of the California Artichoke Advisory Board, and helps organize the festival every year. (Though, I will note, Hopper was born in Pennsylvania and didn’t have her first artichoke until she moved west in the early 1980s.)

Now, that festival has grown into a two-day party with popular bands, a huge shopping marketplace, kids activities, a quilt-making contest, wine tasting, a farmers’ market and dozens upon dozens of food booths serving not just artichoke creations — everything from chicken artichoke sausage to artichoke cheesecake — but all the other festival food you could ever want. There’s also an artichoke eating contest where people gobble down as much as they can in three intense (and more than a little gross) minutes.

“[The festival does] a little bit of promotion for the artichoke — artichokes are such a different thing and they need help, you know — so we promote the artichoke, and also when we make money it goes back to the community,” Hopper explained. A huge portion of people working the festival are from local community groups, who all get paid to be there, with the money going to their organizations. The 2021 event gave more than $45,000 to local schools and nonprofits, according to the Artichoke Festival website.

People all over the festival directed me to a man in the purple shirt (they neglected to mention it was embroidered with an artichoke) who knows more about artichokes than anyone they’ve ever met. Eighty-three-year-old Lionel Handel is retired from his work in the artichoke industry, but not as an ambassador for artichoke appreciation. I found him stationed at an informational booth in the farmers’ market area, where there were tables upon tables heaped with artichokes, all selling for $1 and $2, with lots of other Central Coast vegetables.

“People have a lot of misconceptions about artichokes,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is answer those questions here at the festival. I’m amazed that several hundred people I’ve talked to over the last two days here, the question mainly is, ‘How do you cook the darn things?’”

When I found him, Handel was already talking to a group about how to prepare baby artichokes. His favorite way is to remove the outer petals and get down to the tender heart, then slice them and saute them in garlic and olive oil. As he explained this, he was slicing up a baby artichoke, explaining which parts to eat — then, he handed me a raw piece of one. “It doesn’t taste the same,” he said, “but it’s edible.”

“If you don’t realize it,” he said, “artichokes are very good to eat.” I thought he meant flavor-wise, which, duh, but then he pulled out a nutritional chart. The vegetable has as much potassium as a banana, and a surprising amount of dietary fiber, protein and antioxidants. They’re especially good, Handel says, for lowering cholesterol and improving liver function. He was preaching the good word, but to my surprise, people were really listening. During the time I spent at his booth — maybe 20 minutes — at least a dozen people came over to chat with Handel.

So I’ll ask again: Why throw a party for a vegetable? Pat Hopper would probably say it’s good for the heart in more ways than one.

“You’ll notice a lot of old people working their tails off,” Hopper said. “They’ve been doing it for 20, 30, 40 years. There’s one woman who works the fry booth, she’s 84, and she’s been doing it ever since the festival started in 1959.”

“They get up and work hard for the festival so they can give some money back to the community,” she added. “It really does give you a good feeling. You’re tired at the end of it — you’re more than tired, you’re beat — but you feel good because you’ve really done something.”

Contributed by local news sources

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