Cardoon, Plein Blanc Inerme Blanco (Organic)
Cynara cardunculus. Perennial in zones 7-10.
Related to the artichoke but grown instead for the leaf midribs (technically petioles) that are eaten after blanching. White, thornless leaf midribs grow tall and are extra thick. Vigorous upright growth results in partial self-blanching, giving Plein Blanc Inerme Blanco Cardoon a higher culinary value than more traditional varieties. Though perennial and much more cold hardy than artichokes, cardoons are often grown as an annual for production. Mature leaves are tied together and then wrapped with straw, burlap, or cardboard for three weeks. After harvest they are peeled then boiled for a unique culinary experience. The flavor is similar to artichoke if it’s done right, but can be bitter if not properly prepared. Interesting prehistoric looking plants have a wonderful ornamental-edible (Edimental) appeal. Plants can grow up to four feet wide, with leaves 4’ tall or more and flower stalks as tall as 8’. Their giant thistle-like appearance seems like they could have coexisted with dinosaurs. Purple flowers are a nice bonus and are usually covered in happy bumble bees. Plants may die back but reappear each spring. Plein Blanc Inerme Blanco Cardoon translates from French as something like “Full White Spineless”. We originally sourced seed for this variety from Graines Baumaux in France.
Deep Dive: How to prepare cardoons.
Sow 2–3 seeds in 4″ pots indoors February through April. Thin down to single strongest seedling. Plant out to 18-24″ centers in spring to early summer. Make sure not to place other plants too close as cardoons can reach 3-4′ wide. Plant in a permanent position since this perennial grows back each spring.
Seeds are produced in the second year and are ready when flowers are dried and downy. Wear gloves and use a brick to smash seed heads to remove seed. Winnow to clean. Isolate from other cardoons and artichokes by ½ mile.