This is a thorny question: which came first, the thistle or the artichoke?
Same family, similar taste, but different evolutions.
Most likely, the two date back to a common ancestor: the wild thistle.
All because of the heart of the flower heads!
It seems that primitive men extracted the pulp of the thistle from its inflorescences, and then tasted it: the tasty heart of the flower heads.
As in most cases, it happened that good taste was followed by a prompt domestication. And so the wild thistle became a common thistle.
We do not know exactly when this process began, nor when it ended, but the custom of tasting the heart of the thistle survived in some areas.
Goethe would talk about it deeply amazed, after observing two Sicilian gentlemen, met by chance, who were eating the thistle along their way, after cleaning and extracting it with their cuteddhu (knife).
In the first century A.D. Pliny told about his cultivation in Sicily, near Carthage, in Cordoba, Andalusia, where it was considered a luxury.
Apicius proposed recipes to taste not only the hearts, but also the buds.
Then a thousand years of silence. The thistle was gone!
The return of the thistle and the division from the beautiful artichoke
It was the Arabs with their expansion who introduced new growing techniques to Andalusia. Thanks to these innovations, on one hand the growth of the flower, the famous head, was developed, and on the other the stem.
So, gradually, the two were distinguished and became “thistle” and “artichoke”.
All the artichoke’s women
The artichoke journey to Italy dates back to around 1400; later it became one of Catherine de’ Medici’s favourite dishes. The story goes that on her table there was always a mound of artichokes, which she ate greedily. At that time, the artichoke was also believed to have aphrodisiac qualities and only men were allowed to consume it. Catherine, as a true artichokemaniac, did not care and ate them in public.
It is not only Catherine who is connected to the history of the artichoke. Another great woman has something to do with it: Marilyn Monroe.
In fact, at the beginning of her career, when she was 22 and not yet blond and with the hairstyle that we know, she was elected Queen of the artichoke of Castroville.
“La favolosa storia delle verdure” (La Fabuleuse Histoire des légumes) Évelyne Bloch-Dano (add editore, 2017)