With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales
Unshakeable, She enters the kitchen
And submerges it in a pot.
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.
~Pablo Neruda from “Ode to an Artichoke”
I first encountered a globe artichoke in my first week at college in California. I’d never seen one before, much less dismantled and actually eaten one. The California natives around me in the dining hall were astonished my world view had never before included artichoke leaves and heart. After all, we were only an hour away from the artichoke capital of the world, Watsonville, where the motto for the annual artichoke festival was “Thistle Be Fun!”
My frame of reference growing up on a farm was that thistle-looking plants were noxious weeds and needed to be chopped down before going to seed and reproducing even more noxious weeds. This spiny looking bud that was about to bloom a purple thistle flower looked highly suspicious to me and not to be trusted.
But then someone showed me how to peel off a leaf, dip the base in mayonnaise or lemon garlic butter and scrape off the soft part with my teeth. Noxious? Not even close. Absolutely delicious! It was a revelation.
The circumferential peeling of leaves one by one leads deeper to softer petals and fewer prickles, with the flavor becoming less subtle and more distinct. Once the leaves are all off, there lies uncovered at the base a heart to be scooped out. The round meaty heart is the point of all this effort. It is the gold in the buried treasure chest, the pot at the end of the rainbow. It takes work to reach it, but it never disappoints.
How to mentally get past the plainness and prickles? How to recognize what appears so undesirable as something to preserve and nurture? There are so many times in my day I walk right past such people or opportunities as not worth the trouble. Sometimes I myself am the one with the prickles, protective as they seem to me yet cautionary to others, not to be trusted.
How could anyone know the tender heart that dwells within unless we gently, graciously, gratefully peel the prickles away?