"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Forgotten Cardoon

Last night we incorporated a couple cardoon stalks into the evening meal. I diced up eggplant, red pepper, blue corn, onions, cut in half and cored a few meaty little Turkey tomatoes (one of my new favorites). The cardoons were then peeled, diced, boiled in salted water and later added to the rest of the mixture. My wife was in charge of salmon, generously donated by my in-laws (thanks!), baked with tomatillos and dill. We topped everything off with a zesty salsa and side of warm cornbread...it was delicious.

Cardoons, a biennial and member of the artichoke family, grow fairly well for us as long as they are provided with plenty of water. These large prehistoric appearing plants have saw-toothed leaves and ribbed stalks similar to celery. I started growing them a few years back as we hope to eventually start making some of our own goat cheese. Cardoons contain enzymes that can replace rennet in the cheese making process. Since we have yet to try our hand at cheese and still don't have a viable source of goat milk, we decided to make better use of this rather unusual vegetable and have begun to include it in our diet.

Traditionally, the stalks are blanched in the fall by mounding dirt or straw around them and tying or wrapping the upper portions in paper or any material that will keep the light away, helping to tenderize the stems. We have not tried this, and find that if watered properly the stalks do not seem to get very tough, and the inner ones are often palatably delicate.

In the kitchen, the leaves are removed and the back of the stocks peeled of any fibrous strings. Immediately after peeling and cutting the stalks should be put in cold acidic (salt, vinegar, or lime juice) water to keep them from discoloring. They can then be boiled for about 20 minutes at the cook's leisure. With an almost bittersweet flavor and texture similar to celery I plan to use them in stir fries, soups, or any of the funky dishes we tend to make around here. They are not bad raw either, especially while still young.

While this vegetable may not be for everyone, we hope to make better use of it in the kitchen and will be attempting to overwinter some in both the garden and root cellar this year.


Ruth Trowbridge said...

i have not tried this veg yet, your dinner sounds perfect can't get it that good in any restaurant anywhere for any price - this is the good life

i got some kudzu seed to feed my goats, never planted it, still wonder if it is foolhearty to play with it, i had dwarf goat crosses for milk, a new neighbor moved it with 65 goat milking herd, she practically gave the organic milk away so i sold my goats, within 6 months she had moved away - yep it is a mournful tale i spin still no milk in 5 years, we just don't have the energy to start them again right now, i would really like to sponsor (supply the feed, expense money etc in advance) to a new young farmer who wants to do goats, well like we say to often this time of year at my house - THERE IS ALWAYS NEXT YEAR, looking forward to hibernation, homestead on, peace for all

Julie said...

So Cardoons look a whole lot like Artichokes, and using acid to stop them from discoloring is the same as well. So my question is do they taste anything like an artichoke?

Mr. H. said...


We have thought of getting goats ourselves but are not really willing to commit to the task anytime soon, so no goat milk for us either.

The last time I ate at a restaurant was in 2005 when we took a trip to the Oregon coast. I was sick for two days after eating at a seafood place. That was the second time I have been sick from eating out and the last time I have ever eaten at a restaurant. I'll stick with my own food.

And yes, there is always next year, I'm actually looking forward to hibernating a little myself.

Mr. H. said...


Some people say they have an artichoke flavor to them but I don't think so. Artichokes are actually much better tasting in my opinion. I think their best quality is the slight crunch they add to a dish, as with celery. And they don't taste at all like celery, especially when eaten raw.

el said...

Back when we bought this place 5 years ago, I thought I was being very cutting-edge by planting both cardoon and artichoke in my garden, in the very center bed (the garden is very geometrical). Late that fall I got a visit from the previous owner, back in town for a family event, so I gave him a garden tour. He saw my hilled, tied-up cardoon plants and nearly cried.

It seems this family of Sicilian transplants ALWAYS grew cardoon, so, barring the last 3 years when the old owner got too weak to garden, it had had both cardoon and artichoke growing in it! The cardoon was the Christmas specialty. The Americanized children and grandchildren couldn't stand it, but the 10 kids who grew up in this house (of which the old owner was the 3rd) adored it. Just think: 80 years of cardoon-tending!

I like it peeled, blanched and dipped in a bagna cauda, a hot garlic-y broth with lemon and anchovies in it. Sounds upscale but it's really Sicilian peasant fare.

That's too bad about your restaurant experience. I like visiting restaurants (usually only when I go out of town as the local ones pretty much stink) really to get inspired about my home cooking.

Julie said...

Thanks Mr. H., I think I'll stick to my artichokes!

Roasted Garlicious said...

sound interesting would like to try eating it sometime, but i don't think i've ever seen it before... as for the goats, i've always wanted a couple...BUT i'm not sure i want to be stuck at home forever ;) i do love to wander sometimes :D

Stefaneener said...

My father called it "cardoone" (carDOONeh), and they probably breaded it and fried it in olive oil. Very peasanty.

Frustrated Farmer Rick said...

Great another vegetable I have to consider for next year. We may need to expand.

Mr. H. said...


What an interesting story, apparently cardoons were meant to be grown in your garden. What a great moment for you to realize that you had inadvertently continued that tradition.

We often wonder what the history of our house was, did they garden, raise animals, have lots of children? I know they made or consumed moonshine, the jugs used to show up in old tree stumps.

I have considered growing artichokes for a few years now but have yet to try. Maybe I will this next year...I do love artichokes.

I know that you are right about the restaurants not all being bad, I used to enjoy eating out on occasion. It's just rather disturbing when you get sick twice in one year and rarely eat out, and I have the constitution of a billy goat. All I know is that I have cooked thousands of meals and never become ill, I'll stick with homecooked meals.

Although, if I ever found that perfect chinese restaurant...or Greek, Italian, I like Itallian food...

Mr. H. said...

Roasted Garlicious,

I agree, we find it hard to wander now that we have chickens, goats would really make it hard if not impossible.

Mr. H. said...


Do the expansions ever end, I told my wife that next year we would try to keep the garden as is, no more expanding...to hard to weed it all. So many things to grow.:)

Mr. H. said...


I am going to have to blanch some of mine so that I can try it breaded and fried. That really sounds good.

I'll tell you one thing, I'm finally sick of breaded and fried zucchini this year...no more. No more cucumbers either.:)

Chris said...

Mr. H, I would like to send a Big Thanks for your response to the cold weather crop hoop house techniques you use. The book is on order through the local library system. Hoop houses and planting are scheduled to begin this weekend on a small experimental scale. I am considering leaving 1-2 tilled, mulched with straw and empty of seeds/seedlings to see if this technique will allow me to jump start next seasons more tender plantings. I wonder if the hoop houses will be warm enough to perhaps transplant tomatoes, peppers and eggplant by May 1st. Our usual planting time around here for such crops is Memorial Weekend and even then we may get an occasional late frost. It will definitely be an experiment that I will journal and share. Thanks again, Chris

Mr. H. said...

Hi Chris,

I think you will find a lot of valuable information in that book.

We often put our tomato and other transplants under a row cover in early May, it helps if you use 6 millimeter plastic. You can also try setting up a couple stakes in the row and attach a string of outdoor christmas lights to them running down the inside of your row cover. Turn them on when you fear frost and this will give you the couple extra degrees that you need to stave it off.

What I always do is cover my rows just before the sun goes down so that they heat up inside. This also helps keep the internal temperature up.

Just make sure to open those row covers before the sun hits them for too long in the morning and afternoon or your plants will cook.

Here are some more books you might be able to get through the library, some are better then others:

Successful Cold-Climate Gardening -Lewis Hill

Growing Vegetables West Of The Cascades - Steve Solomon

The New Northern Gardener - Jennifer Bennett

Winter Gardening In The Maritime Northwest - Binda Colebrook

Also, you might find the YouTube video way down on my sidebar "Victorian Kitchen Garden" interesting. Here is the link -

Lisa Carroll-Lee said...

Wow, I've seen this referenced in old cookbooks but never knew exactly what it was. Thanks!

LynnS said...

I'll be interested to learn of your wintering-over experiment with Cardoons. I seem to recall this is a tall plant, but I may be wrong. Will you cut down the stalks and allow only new growth when you bring some into your home?

We are planning to get goats next year and I'm so psyched up for it. I have wanted goats for such a long time and it will be great to have the ability to make my own cheese. Of course, once we get involved with it all, I may be kicking myself daily. Or twice daily, depending....;-)

One of the cheese-making issues I have had is with purchased rennet tablets, so your comment on the substitution of cardoon is quite interesting.

Mr. H. said...

Accidental Huswife,

Your welcome. It seems there are a lot of old time vegetables that have fallen out of favor.

Mr. H. said...


Yes cardoons can get pretty tall. We planted ours out late and in a shady location where the ground easily remains moist. This gave us smaller more tender stalked plants, they are only about waist high.

Cardoon and thistle flowers can be dried(powdered) and used to curdle milk. This works with making soft cheeses from goat and sheeps milk. Apparently it does not work with cows milk. I remember reading that people used to use boiled stinging nettle as well, the whole plant I believe...I'm guessing.

You will probabily kick yourself three times a day but it will be worth it. I can't wait to here more about the goats. One of my jobs as a youngster was to bottle feed the baby goats. I have always been fond of them.

Some of the cardoons will be left to overwinter in the ground mounded with dirt and straw. The others will be potted up and put in the basement.

Whenever I transplant a plant like celery I always remove about 15% or more of the leaves (stalks) to compensate for the roots I may have damaged. This really seems to help with transplant shock. I will remove all but the smallest cardoon stalks though as I will only be interested in using the new tender growth this winter.

LynnS said...

Mike, just yesterday I happened upon a section about curdling milk and it mentioned all 3: cardoon, nettle, and thistle. Of course, it was only a mention, nothing specific.

If I find anything further, I'll share. The old books online tend to provide excellent tips on these types of thrifty foodstuffs.

My good friend had goats and got rid of them. I convinced her (read: conned her) into getting back into them (Nubians). We had a blast. And yes, they were awful. And fun. And characters. Dogs with hooves....I won't be jumping into this blindly. Only foolishly!

Did you ever read "Never Kiss A Goat On The Lips?".

Mr. H. said...


I am so looking forward to this winters reading time. The old books are always my favorites, all that forgotten knowledge.

Your right, goats are just like dogs and someday they will be part of our little homestead. I'll let you go first though.:) One of these days, years from now, we may move farther "out", then I will consider more animals like goats.

I have not read "Never Kiss A Goat On The Lips?" but I'll keep it it in mind. We always spend one or two rainy winter days hunting down interesting books at used book stores. It's amazing what we sometimes find.

The little tough guy is in the kitchen with grandma learning the subtle nuances of chocolate cake baking. I am laughing while I listen to her try and instruct him.:) It's his father's birthday today.

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