Steamed cardoon flower/choke on the left, artichoke on the right.

I’ve got some questions about cardoons. A while back, Erik of Homegrown Evolution gave me a cardoon plant. For folks unfamiliar with the plant, it’s the same family as artichoke and thistle – but it’s grown for its edible leaf-stalks which somewhat resemble huge celery stalks.

I planted it mid-March 2009 in a full-sun spot in a raised bed in a bulb-out in front of eco-village. For the first year, it didn’t really go anywhere, but this year it’s grown vigorously and become quite large – about 4-5 feet tall, with great big healthy leaves, and lots of flowers – which I think are called “chokes” before they open into actual flowers.  The single cardoon plant has about 2 dozen chokes, where an artichoke plant typically has maybe 4-8. 

The cardoon flowers/chokes are, of course, quite a bit like artichokes, though a bit smaller and a bit spikier. I steamed some for community dinner tonight, and they tasted good. The leaves seemed to me to be the same as artichokes, while the heart seemed slightly firmer and slightly less flavorful – but not bad – still very edible. 

I looked around on-line for instructions for harvesting cardoon stalks. Apparently they’re very tough (per Erik, pretty much inedible) unless one blanches them. Blanching consists of gathering the plant and wrapping/tieing some paper or cloth around it for a couple of weeks. The online instructions (best ones I found: here for how to blanch in the field and here for how to prepare them in the kitchen) suggest blanching in the fall, when it’s cool out. Generally, once I finish harvesting artichokes (around June) I stop watering the plants and let them die back to the roots. They then grow back multiple pups from the existing roots, with new plants emerging around August or September, if I recall correctly. 

I was thinking that I would try to harvest the fruit within the next couple weeks, then blanch the cardoon in June. Supposedly it’s good to do it during cool weather, which means our typical “June gloom” might allow me to get away with early blanching. Has anyone out there grown cardoon in Southern California – and had success blanching? Please Let me know what worked, and how you timed it. 

Also, a lot of the photos of cardoons seem to show rather immature plants – as if they’re harvested before they flower. Is that correct? Given the schedule they recommend, I find this difficult to believe… 

(One more note: apparently the cardoon can send down serious roots 8-feet into the ground and can spread pretty dramatically… so, if you grow them be careful! A couple websites recommended making sure to cut off all the flowers, so that they don’t invade your neighborhood.)

updated 5.17.2010 – added photo of cardoon plant, and corrected our cardoon’s height to 4-5 feet – from 5-6 feet.