Monday, April 26, 2010

Cooked Poem: Ode to an Artichoke, and some Jong and Child

For Simon
This Cooked Poem on the artichoke was completely accidental. The artichokes just looked so lovely in the grocery store on Saturday that I had to take them home with me. And because they looked so lovely, and complicated, I thought there has to be at least one poem that has been written in the last several hundred years that is about the artichoke. I found “Ode to an Artichoke,” by Pablo Neruda, and then sure enough, Erica Jong has her own poem about the artichoke in response to Neruda’s. She also has one in response to Julia Child’s instructions on the preparation of an artichoke. I therefore decided it would be appropriate to include everyone for this Cooked Poem. The artichoke was grown and harvested, Neruda was inspired and wrote a poem, Jong read Neruda’s poem, ate the artichoke and responded, and she also read Child and responded. Then I read Neruda, Jong, and Child, cooked the artichoke and ate it.

All this inspiration from what is really just the flower head of a thorny thistle.

I decided to dedicate this Cooked Poem to my brother Simon, who is the most passionate artichoke lover I have ever known. Since childhood, Simon has delighted in the ritual of pulling off each leaf, dipping it in the lemony vinaigrette, and then scraping the leaf between clenched teeth to get at the tender flesh.

So I thought about him as I sat at the table tonight, with the rain outside, doing just this.

They really are so delicious.

"Ode to an Artichoke," by Pablo Neruda

The artichoke
of delicate heart
in its battle-dress, builds
its minimal cupola;
in its scallop of
Around it,
demoniac vegetables
bristle their thicknesses,
tendrils and belfries,
the bulb's agitations;
while under the subsoil
the carrot
sleeps sound in its
rusty mustaches.
Runner and filaments
bleach in the vineyards,
whereon rise the vines.
The sedulous cabbage
arranges its petticoats;
sweetens a world;
and the artichoke
dulcetly there in a gardenplot,
armed for a skirmish,
goes proud
in its pomegranate
Till, on a day,
each by the other,
the artichoke moves
to its dream
of a market place
in the big willow
a battle formation.
Most warlike
of defilades-
with men
in the market stalls,
white shirts
in the soup-greens,
artichoke field marshals,
close-order conclaves,
commands, detonations,
and voices,
a crashing of crate staves.

with her hamper
make trial
of an artichoke:
she reflects, she examines,
she candles them up to the light like an egg,
never flinching;
she bargains,
she tumbles her prize
in a market bag
among shoes and a
cabbage head,
a bottle
of vinegar; is back
in her kitchen.
The artichoke drowns in a pot.

So you have it:
a vegetable, armed,
a profession
(call it an artichoke)
whose end
is millennial.
We taste of that
dismembering scale after scale.
We eat of a halcyon paste:
it is green at the artichoke heart.

Here are sections 11 and 12 from Jong’s poem “Fruits and Vegetables.”


(Artichoke, after Child): Holding the heart base up, rotate it slowly with your left hand against the blade of a knife held firmly in your right hand to remove all pieces of ambition & expose the pale surface of the heart. Frequently rub the cut portions with gall. Drop each heart as it is finished into acidulated water. The choke can be removed after cooking.


(Artichoke, after Neruda)

It is green at the artichoke heart,
but remember the times
you flayed
leaf and leaf,
hoarding the pale silver paste
behind the fortress of your teeth,
tonguing the vinaigrette,
only to find the husk of a worm
at the artichoke heart?
The palate reels like a wronged lover.
Was all that sweetness counterfeit?
Must you vomit back
world after vegetable world
for the sake of one worm
in the green garden of the heart?

Here are Julia Child’s instructions, from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Preparation for Cooking:

One at a time, prepare the artichokes as follows:

Remove the stem by bending it at the base of the artichoke until it snaps off, thus detaching with the stem any tough filaments which may have pushed up into the heart.

Break off the small leaves at the base of the artichoke. Trim the base with a knife so the artichoke will stand solidly upright.

Lay the artichoke on its side and slice three quarters of an inch off the top of the center cone of leaves. Trim off the points of the rest of the leaves with scissors. Wash under cold running water.

Rub the cut portions of the artichoke with lemon juice. Drop it into a basin of cold water containing 1 tablespoon of vinegar per quart of water. The acid prevents the artichoke from discoloring.

Artichauts Au Natural

6 artichokes prepared for cooking as in the preceding directions

A large kettle containing 7 to 8 quarts of boiling water

1 ½ tsp salt per quart of water

Drop the prepared artichokes in the boiling, salted water. Bring water back to the boil as rapidly as possible and boil slowly, uncovered, for 35 to 45 minutes. The artichokes are done when the leaves pull out easily and the bottoms are tender when pierced with a knife.

Immediately remove them from the kettle with skimmer or spoon and drain them upside down in a colander.

Boiled artichokes may be served hot, warm, or cold.


  1. There were 3 huge artichokes in the blue bowl this afternoon Sophie,
    Did you eat them all?

  2. these photos are really beautiful.