A Bit of Earth

Coats for Cardoons

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With our newfound interest in foraging comes a renewed interest in using all the edible plants, wild or cultivated, that are growing in our yard. So now we are wanting to actually harvest and cook our cardoon rather than merely admiring its grandeur in the garden.

The edible parts of the cardoon are the leaf stems. That first year we grew cardoon, we cooked the stems and found that they were a bit tough and very bitter unless cooked for a very long time. What I now know is that the key to eliminating the bitterness is to blanch the stems while they are growing. This means covering the stems with cloth, paper or cardboard for about three to five weeks. During this time, the stems will lose their color and soften. Hopefully, they will also lose some of their bitterness.

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Usually this blanching is done in the fall. But our cardoon was already about three feet tall, so it looked ready to blanch now.

We discovered that the cardoon, which we thought was one large and wide plant, was really about eight or nine individual plants all growing in a mass. We separated, as best we could, the individual cardoon plants and then tied each one up in a bundle with some sisal.

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We then wrapped burlap around each bundle. If people thought we were a bit strange with our odd and jumbled garden, they surely know that for a fact now.

It is the start of the summer and we have plants wearing coats and forming a weird tubular alien–looking living sculpture.

This is the first time that we have ever tried blanching the cardoon. In a few weeks we will be ready to try out some recipes.

I hope all this works and we find some tasty ways to prepare cardoon because we have lots and lots and lots of cardoon. I knew the cardoon wanted to spread. I just didn’t know how much it wanted to spread.

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Until this year, the cardoon was probably held in check by the leaf mulch in the garden. But, earlier this spring, I raked the mulch off an area of the garden in order to plant a buckwheat cover crop. Buckwheat is now growing in that area along with many other plants, including an alarming number of cardoons.

Therefore, to take advantage of what promises to be a very abundant harvest, we do really need to find ways of using our cardoon.

As a final note on the rapid spread of cardoon in my yard, I do have to admit that I am partly responsible. Apparently the cardoon is an opportunistic plant (“opportunistic” is the term that Toby Hemenway uses instead of “invasive” in Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home–Scale Permaculture). By raking off the leaf mulch and leaving bare soil, I created an environment in which cardoon seeds could thrive. Eventually, I expect I will find ways to keep the cardoon at equilibrium with the rest of the garden, but right now I am simply marveling at its prolificness.

For more on growing, blanching and cooking cardoons, here is a short list of websites that discuss this interesting plant.

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