In my search for alternative crops for the family farm, it has taken a while for me to notice one which has literally been right in front of me. A vegetable garden favorite at the home ranch has been a small to mid-sized purple artichoke. Why not consider it as a crop?
The back story on these is as follows. After World War One, a local soldier returning from Europe brought seeds back with him to Ventura County. They were planted here and seemed to thrive. Over the years, the family moved around locally. About twenty years ago (maybe just 15?) my mother saw them in the garden of a friend, a descendent of that WWI soldier, and obtained a few seeds. They have been growing for us ever since.
What is the variety? That’s not clear. There are several French and Italian purple varietals. It may be the French “Violet de Provence”, the Italian “Carciofi Brindisini” or it may simply be an heirloom strain of its own. ( The European names just sound so much more exotic though…) After 90 years of open pollination here in Ventura County, it may have evolved from European ancestor in any event. Does anyone know when a plant can be legitimately considered its own variety? “Violette de Saticoy”?
Why is it purple? I’m sure there is a great botanical reason, but honestly I don’t know. Even some of the green varieties have a touch of purple, so I suspect farmers selected for the attractive purple color at some point in the plant’s domestication.
Online sources will say that purple artichokes are not grown commercially. That isn’t quite right. It doesn’t appear that purple vareties make up a meaningful percentage of the commercial crop, but a little digging around found some available at farmer’s markets and other specialty channels. So they’re out there, but very rare.
Most purple varieties are described as having a rich, nutty flavor, and this one is no exception. A little on the small side for eating in the traditional American fashion, it has a very tasty heart, especially when picked a little young.
The next hurdle for us is to develop a plan to propogate the seeds to the few hundred plants we’d need to begin modest commercial production. It would be interesting to do it ourselves, but I don’t like adding too many uncontrolled variable to an experiment. Any thoughts or advice is welcome!