When I was pregnant, the first time that I felt my daughter move was immediately after I had eaten a piece of Cardiac Arrest pizza from the Glass Nickel Pizza Company. It was then that I knew my daughter would express her genetically inherited Italian palate.
Her eating habits continue to betray her Italian genes. She eats (and wears) spaghetti with a gusto that rivals that of her father. Cheese tortellini are finished off with a belly rub and an exclamation of “delicious!” And, like every good Italian, she knows that all food is better if it is topped with a healthy heap of Parmesan cheese.
But still, it was a surprise to me this Easter Sunday, when gathered around Grandma and Papa’s table for lunch, she took an interest in the baked artichoke on my plate. It is green, after all.
“Okay,” I peeled one of the Parmesan-and-breadcrumb-stuffed petals from the flower. “Open your mouth, now bite down.” I pulled the petal through her clenched teeth.
“Okay,” I gave her a second petal, and before I could get another one removed, her mouth was open wide like an expectant baby bird. By the end of the meal, she had eaten most of my artichoke, some of her Grandpa’s and some of her Dad’s.
Baked artichokes stuffed with Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs are a tradition at my in laws. When my husband and I arrived for dinner one Mother’s Day, Phil’s greeting to his mom was “Wow, you made artichokes.” Ten minutes later, when Phil’s brother Paul arrived, his words as he walked through the door: “Great, artichokes.” (So much for Happy Mother’s Day.)
It turns out that artichokes are an ancient treat and even the subject of a Greek myth.
The ancient Greeks said that one day when Zeus was visiting his brother, Poseidon, he spied a beautiful girl, named Cynara. (Cynara is the Latin name for the genus to which artichokes belong, interestingly.)
Zeus, as Zeus was wont to do, seduced Cynara, and he was so pleased by her that he made her a Goddess so that she would be readily available on Mount Olympus. One day, missing her mother, Cynara returned to earth for a visit. When she came back to Olympus, she found Zeus angered by her “un-goddess-like” behavior. He threw her to the earth where she was transformed into an artichoke.
The Greeks and the Romans considered artichokes a delicacy and aphrodisiac, and the Greeks thought that eating artichokes would result in the birth of boys. (Although in our family they seem to be resulting in the birth of little girls.) Around 800 A.D. the Moors cultivated the artichoke in Spain, and another Arab group cultivated them in Sicily. During this time the artichoke was improved by horticulture and became the vegetable that we are familiar with today.
Nutritionally artichokes are considered a low-calorie, nutrient-rich food, that is an excellent source of folate, magnesium and antioxidants. My daughter doesn’t know any of this though. She knows one thing: they taste good.
So she carries on another family tradition. Years from now, on Mother’s Day when returns home because she misses her me like Cynara missed her mother, I won’t be greeted with “Happy Mother’s Day.” It will be “Great, you made artichokes.”
And I will smile because I know that she is being true to her Italian heritage.
© 2009 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.