I’ve been experimenting with the various parts of thistles lately and I just couldn’t help myself–I had to take it a step further, having recently discovered the relationship between thistles and commercially-grown artichokes, which I love and miss from my years in California where they are plentiful and cheap.
The root crown of my previous experiment was artichoky enough to please me immensely. Thus even though Thayer (2006) says it is hardly worth one’s time to “peel the bristly bracts from the outside of a thistle flower bud (well before flowering time) and expose a tiny, tender, delicious, artichoke-like heart,” I had to try it.
It was a crime of opportunity, really—the “crime” being the theft of the thistle buds from the plants and also from the ants, who were swarmed upon many of them, and the opportunity being our recent foraging trip to Golden, Colorado, where the thistles were big and readily available. Because of the ants we selected our experimental buds carefully, taking six in total— four nodding or musk thistles (Carduus nutans) and two of a Cirsium of some kind.
I am enamored of the thistles’ geometric, spiny, protected buds, and the fact that inside them there is something that resembles my beloved artichoke. This is why I decided to post this entry even though you’re not going to get a whole lot of valuable food intel out of it. A microscopic amount—that’s what I got and that’s what you’ll get too, unless you know of some giant mega thistle somewhere.
I decided to boil the buds first, hoping to relax the tiny-spine situation. I think it did, somewhat, and although I initially tried peeling all the little tiny musk thistle bracts off one by one and running my teeth along their bases to scrape off the yummy stuff like I do with artichokes, I ended up abandoning that effort and settling for cutting off the sides with a knife, scraping out the immature flowers, and exposing the heart. Sadly, the musk thistles (the ones with all the obvious spine-tipped “leaves” or bracts) yielded over-firm, inedible hearts with little brown wormy trails through them.
The Cirsiums (the round ones with tiny “leaves”), on the other hand, did offer up some teeny slivers of yummy hearts. I extracted mine carefully on the point of a knife and dipped it in mayonnaise while Gregg dipped his in butter. Miniscule, yes, but delicious—though the time I spent preparing them allowed dinner to go cold. Sam was right, of course; unless you’re just curious, it’s hardly worth the effort.
I’d like to take this opportunity to put the word out, however: If anyone happens to find a giant thistle, please let me know; I’ll be out there in a millisecond to harvest it. And if your giant thistles turn out to be artichokes, that’s okay too—just set me loose in the artichoke field. I’ll forage those in a heartbeat!