Ready your plates. It’s National Artichoke Hearts Day. This high-class thistle has inspired many an artist, but place said muse on a lunch plate and we diners can start to panic. “How do I eat this thing?”
Etiquette experts old and new to the rescue.
In her 1922 Etiquette In Society, In Business, In Politics And At Home, Emily Post serves it up plain and simple. ‘Artichokes are always eaten with the fingers; a leaf at a time is pulled off and the edible end dipped in the sauce, and then bitten off’.
Miss Margery Lee agrees. In her 1937 The New Etiquette, she writes: ‘At a formal dinner when artichokes are served, the leaves are removed in the kitchen and only the heart is left, which may be eaten with a fork. But, in informal service the whole artichoke is served. If it is meant to be a salad it will be cold and the sauce will be cold. If it is served hot with drawn butter, the butter will be in a dish to one side. The leaves are taken off one at a time with the fingers, the thick, lower part of the leaf is dipped in the sauce or butter and only the soft part at the bottom will be bitten off. The leaf is then laid on the side of the dish and the next one taken until the heart is reached. Then, with a knife, one cuts off the top fuzzy part from the heart and finishes the heart with a fork.’
Anselmus Boëtius de Boodt. Artisjok. 1596-1610
And then there is Miss Manners – Judith Martin – who at age 83 is still doling out sage advice. In Finger Feud – a 1995 article she wrote for The Washington Post – Miss Manners wrote: ‘The classic case of being forced to abandon your instincts, if you can even muster any, and reach for the rule book is the artichoke. Each leaf is pulled off, dipped in the sauce, and silently pulled through the teeth. When the leaves are all gone, it is necessary to bring in reinforcements, in the form of a knife and fork, to scrape the prickly part off the artichoke heart so it may be eaten. Failing to do so, or attempting it with the fingers alone, carries its own punishment.’
Abraham Bloemaert. Landscape with Fruits and Vegetables in the foreground. 1600-1651
Is all this effort worth it as you slowly work your your way down to the artichoke heart? Some say it belongs in the finest of meals. Miss Piggy would disagree. “These things are just plain annoying,” says our bedazzled porcine. “After all the trouble you go to, you get about as much actual food out of eating an artichoke as you would from licking 30 or 40 postage stamps. Have the shrimp cocktail instead.”
Header: Alexander Adriaenssen. Still life with artichokes in a silver gilt wine cistern and other silver objects. 1647