The Art of the Artichoke

Have you ever woke up in the morning craving artichokes? Probably not…I get it. It’s kind a weird craving. Somewhere on the scale of of pregnancy cravings. These aren’t your pickles and cottage cheese cravings though! There’s something about that rich, buttery texture of a good cooked artichoke that makes me feel right in the world. As I woke up this morning, I found a weird need to indulge in some artichokes. As I weighed my options for the day, I decided that I live too close to the artichoke capital of the world to not make the trip. I drank my pour over coffee, hopped into the shower and then out the door for my Saturday trip. Where to? Castroville, California of course!

The trip started a bit slow as I made my way out of Fremont. A build up of traffic several times until my exit for the Monterey Bay Area. It’s Saturday, I fully understand. People leaving the bay to the beaches, golfing or maybe even the trek down to LA for the weekend. Did they not fully understand that I had my craving for artichokes? Was this experience of cars slowly moving at a snail like speed their idea of a joke on me? I’m going to assume not. As the traffic started to dissipate, I started to see the greenery of the vegetable wielding pastures of Castroville in the distance.

Castroville is a small city with a population a bit over 7,000 people. Just a drop in the bucket for a California city. The downtown area will take you a good three minutes to drive through. Starting off the exit, you pass the Giant Artichoke restaurant that claims they have the best fried artichokes in the area. Whether or not this is true, I’ll have to stop in at one point to decide. My view of the outside with the massive artichoke, looks more like a storefront out of the little house of horrors versus a fine dining establishment. Luckily when it comes to fried food, I’m not really sure that matters. The amount of oil used to fry food will more than likely kill any evil spirits that the artichoke had in its heart! As you continue down the road past the little shop, you get into the heart of the small town. Several Mexican restaurants, a couple of bars and hotels are scattered on both sides of the street. The Castroville sign up above the Main Street reads, “Castroville: The artichoke center of the world.” A bold statement for a town with the population of 7,000. It makes me wonder what the residents think of their small center of the world. Do they eat artichokes regularly with every meal? Or after a year or two of being in Castroville, do they become sick of the vegetable? Do people move here to become a part of that special artichoke scene?

Although Castroville claims that it’s the artichoke center of the world, it pales in comparison to several countries. Italy, Spain and Egypt all actually do an excessive amount more production of artichokes than the US. The first artichokes were grown in Castroville in the 1920’s. Spanish settlers bringing them over from Europe. That’s when it spun off and got big. Most of the United States can’t grow artichokes. It’s a special climate that blends the perfect recipe to grow this unique crop. California actually grows close to 100% of the artichokes in the country. All being within the Monterey Bay Area. When you think about it (even though it’s a small amount), It’s still a pretty large scale in one central area. Along with this is the Castroville Artichoke festival that is held every year. I bet you won’t find a festival in other countries that they are grown! That’s our American way of joining together right?

What’s special about artichokes you say? There has never really been a big artichoke craze in the US, but they are very healthy for you. Not to the point that when you get your annual checkup, the doctor pressures you about the health benefits. Yet this unique looking vegetable is high in nutrients. The amount of fiber and vitamin K is off the scale. Research has shown that they can help lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure. It’s surprising why more people don’t eat artichokes. Honestly, I would say most people I talk to just don’t know how to cook them! A simple process of boiling and then consuming the meaty substance off of the petals one by one. Then of course is the best part of the artichoke, the heart! The amazing taste of an artichoke heart pushes my craving to the next level. A little bit of butter and garlic to dip it in and you’ve got yourself a delicious treat.

Have you ever seen an artichoke field? Before moving out to California, I had no idea of how they even grew. Did they come from a tree? Do they pop up from the ground or underneath like a piece of broccoli? My first trip down to the coast had me haunting my car as I spotted an artichoke field out of the corner of my eye. Pulling over to the side of the road, I almost stopped traffic. The sight of seeing the growth popping out of their plants was such a cool sight to see. The thousands of plants and small artichokes forming at the tops of them. They almost look like they are from another world. Aliens placed at only key locations around the world. Slowly gaining ground, ready to take over! Ok maybe that was a bit much?

My favorite spot to frequent when I have an artichoke is Pezzini farms right off of US 1. As you make your way over the bridge to the farmers market type building, you are greeted with small artichoke plants in front of the location. Off to the side, you see a small food truck with a smorgasbord of menu items involving artichokes. The artichoke soup and fried artichokes are what I will often get when I stop by. The fried artichokes are simple. Artichokes fried with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top and then several choices of dips. They’re delicious though! Cooked to perfection and somewhat gooey as they enter your mouth. The artichoke soup could be a mixed bag with people. It’s almost more of a drink for how smoothly they blend the artichokes. I will say that if you like artichokes, garlic and butter, you will probably enjoy the soup! They have recently added tacos to their menu so I’m excited to give them a try when I go back again. Either way, the food truck is delicious and then the farmers market like area has fresh produce and all of the types of artichokes you could ever want!

I grabbed my delicious meal from the food truck and also purchased some artichokes from the farmers market and I was on my way. Stopping at a couple of areas on the way out including Moss Landing to eat my soup and enjoy some beach time. Then on to Watsonville for a couple of beers before heading home. The ride home was a bit more peaceful than the drive in. If you haven’t tried artichokes, I would recommend grabbing a coupe and making them at home. You might start having the cravings that I do! Also, take a look to see where your artichokes came from, more than likely they came from the artichoke center of the world. Next time you make a stop in California, check out Castroville. This small town will be an instant hit on your vacation plans…even if it’s just for a small instance.

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I've lived several places in the United States. Born in Michigan, lived several years of my life in Florida and currently in California. I was enticed with travel from an early age. I've traveled around most states in the US and have ventured across Europe. As my love of travel continues, my passion grows deeper with learning about new cultures and what makes them unique. Travel with me as I gather my thoughts on travel and experience the world through my lens.

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