Castroville, California is the Artichoke Center of the World. When you drive past miles of fields and see roadside stands (one with the “World’s Largest Artichoke”,) you realize the city knows exactly who it is and what it represents. There’s never been a problem with finding a product to brand here. But the odd vegetable with a reputation is complex and while its heart is gourmet, there’s some thistle stuff that can nearly choke you to death if you attempt to eat it.
The artichoke vegetable is aptly described by its characteristics– layers of leathery green petals, each with tiny bits of edible “meat” as you work your way toward the “heart”. But just before you get there, beware! The stuff that surrounds the heart can make you choke. Scrape it, scoop it, and throw it away.
Around 75% of the California’s total acreage of artichoke crops lies within Monterey County, and California, itself, raises 100% of all artichokes grown in the U.S. The excellent weather south of San Francisco in the Monterey Bay, the rich soils and the decades of knowledge & expertise in growing this thistle-like vegetable make a visit to Castroville worth the trip–especially during Artichoke Festival.
Artichokes are considered gourmet appetizers and are served at fine restaurants but can be eaten in several casual cafes in and around Castroville. The favorite accompaniments are melted lemon butter or mayonnaise. During the Artichoke Festival, you’ll discover many tasty ways they are cooked and served during the contests and food vendor sales held at this annual event on May 21 & 22, 2011.
Artichoke Festival is where Marilyn Monroe got her start as a Beauty Queen extraordinaire. Thousands of people attend the event and visitors must find hotel rooms in Seaside, Monterey, Carmel, and Santa Cruz, all surrounding Castroville, as the city only has a hotel or two with not many rooms. It is mostly a farm community and many of its residents are Hispanic, so you’ll see store windows and signs written in Spanish.
The artichoke’s broad appeal and price (rarely less than $1 / each) makes for a popular California grown veggie that brings great pride to the state, much like Gilroy garlic, Central Coast strawberries, and Central Valley nuts. California really is a tasty place to explore!