By Harold McGee
The artichoke is the large flower bud of a kind of thistle, Cynara scolymus, native to the Mediterranean region. It was probably developed from the cardoon, C. cardunculus, which has small and meager buds whose base and stem were eaten in ancient Greece. Thistles were a delicacy in Rome, a fact of which Pliny professed to be ashamed: “thus we turn into a corrupt feast the earth’s monstrosities, those which even the animals instinctively avoid” (Book 19). The name is a corruption, via Italian, of the Arabic al’qarshuf, meaning “little cardoon”; food historian Charles Perry suggests that the large buds we know today, several inches in diameter, were developed in the late Middle Ages in Moorish Spain.