Binge on artichokes in Castroville

Binge on artichokes in Castroville

“ Ok guys! So today I will take you both to Castroville, which is the "Artichoke Capital of the World! This is where the rich, fertile soil of the Salinas Valley meets the sands of the Monterey Bay and these fog-shrouded fields prove to be the ideal location for the commercial cultivation ofartichokes,” said our friend and author Tom Bates. We had never tasted artichokes though we had heard of them in India. “Castroville was one of the earliest established Monterey County communities founded in 1863 by Juan Bautista Castro from where it has been baptised. One of Steinbeck's finest short stories, Johnnie Bear, was set here,” said Tom our host in California.

Steinbeck? Sigh! Ofcourse we wanted to go! Reading up on artichokes we found that they are a marine climate vegetable and thrive in the cooler coastal climates.It grows best in frost-free areas with cool, foggy summers. Freezing temperatures will kill the buds and hot, dry conditions destroy the tenderness though artichokes do, however, like full sun.

History has it that it was the Swiss Italians, who also grew the first wine vineyards in Salinas Valley, who began the California artichoke industry there. Ofcourse, whether artichokes are indigenous is the subject of heated debate. Some claim Spaniards brought them there as well.We visited Pezzini Farms which boasts about producing Green Globe artichokes for over fifty years. “Ciao Bella! We carefully select only tender artichokes and ship them anywhere in the United States. So leave your order with us and we will deliver,” said a smiling salesman. And the spiciest tidbit of all was, this was where Marilyn Monroe, then known as Norma Jean, got her start as the first artichoke festival queen. How cool is that?

Castoville retains its small farm town identity and for us coming from over populated India, it was a lovely underpopulated little town. It does offer some services for the traveler such as hotels, gas and a small shopping mall. The major event in Castroville is the Artichoke Festival held in May, and the most fun thing to do is watch the Artichoke Festival Parade that starts around 10 in the morning.

Try this Cream of Artichoke soup which is easy to make and great on a cold evening!
4 cups water
1 tbs. lemon juice
1 tbs. oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
3 lbs. artichokes (3 to 4 medium, trimmed of thorns)
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup half-and-half
1 tsp. ground pepper
1 tsp. salt sprig of fresh thyme or
1 tsp. dried thyme
Bring water to a boil with oil, lemon juice, and two garlic cloves. Add the artichokes and cook 45 minutes. Remove hearts and puree in food processor with some of the stock, remaining garlic, salt, and pepper. Slice 1/2 to 1 cup of the tender end of the leaves into thin strips. Reheat soup with leaves, half-and-half, and thyme.

There are cooking demos at the Artichoke Festival held in May, to showcase the versatility and unique techniques for preparing and using artichokes. You can enjoy them fried, sautéed, grilled, marinated, pickled, fresh, and creamed in soup! The famers market is where you can buy artichokes and more, fresh from the surrounding farms.There are also great field tours where you hop a bus to an artichoke patch for grower talks and photo ops.

Places to stay if you want to enjoy a couple of laid back days:
Artichoke Inn
10341 Merritt St.
Castroville, CA 95012
(831) 633-3300

Quality Inn Monterey Beach Dunes
3280 Dunes Dr.
Marina, CA 93933
(831) 384-1800

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