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The artichoke (Cynara scolymus) is a type of thistle in the Family Asteraceae. The edible part of the plant is the base (receptacle) of the flower head in bud, properly called a vegetable as it is harvested well before any fruit develops. The "bud" is sometimes called globe artichoke, French artichoke, or just choke, to avoid confusion with the Jerusalem artichoke, a different plant.

Eating technique

Although Americans from the U.S West Coast are very familar with the artichoke, people from elsewhere rarely encounter this vegetable and eating one can be a trap for the inexperienced. After cooking, the large leathery "leaves" forming a tight rosette are pulled off one by one, and their soft, inner basal part (usually) dipped in some kind of sauce, perhaps mayonnaise or vinaigrette. The dipped soft part is then pulled off with the teeth and all the rest of the leaf discarded — absolutely not to be eaten. The fleshy, edible part is delicious, but quite sparse in proportion to that which is discarded.

This process continues until most of the leaves have been removed and the remaining ones are too small and delicate to bother with eating; (This point is difficult to judge and the novice artichoke eater may wish to seek guidance by discreetly watching a companion). Finally, a knife is used to remove the whole top layer of delicate and stringy leaflike structures crowning the "heart". The idea is to cut as high as possible whilst still removing all of the irritating, central "feathery" growth. If this is judged correctly, the whole top can be neatly removed leaving a large fleshy heart (note that the base of the leaves previously ingested attached here. It is this central top of the stem that supported the rosette that is sold cut up and bottled as "artichoke hearts". The lower part of this stem or stalk cannot be eaten (and should have been cut off in preparation before cooking), but the soft heart itself may be consumed with relish.

It will be seen that the art of eating this food is in itself a satisfying and time consuming matter which has wider implications than mere nourishment.

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