Artichoke heaven

July, of all the months in the garden, should surely give us a feeling that this is it…the pinnacle of the year, full-blown summer. It is properly hot and sunny, and Glastonbury looked amazingly free from mud and packed with shiny happy pink and brown people. I considered going…but who would water my pots?

I am watering most days and must crack on with planting brassicas and alpine strawberries currently infesting my patio. I hope they will establish before I go on holiday in August. When I do that no doubt my currently unenthusiastic courgettes will turn into marrows. It is a real challenge, especially in summer, to concentrate on the life you are living instead of the life you think you ought to be living and curating on Instagram.

An old-fashioned dream of entertaining friends in the summerhouse with a dainty tea of cucumber sandwiches, scones and raspberry jam has yet to be realized…. I daresay they might prefer a barbecue.

Still, previous months’ efforts have now matured into reality. An excellent crop of new potatoes has proved so delicious with butter I dare not eat any more. I am now swapping potatoes for quiche at a nearby deli, so quiche and broad beans will be my dinner tomorrow. The broad bean crop has been smitten by black fly, but while it has slowed down the growth of the plants, I still have a reasonable crop and the eating quality has been unaffected. I steam the beans with summer or winter savory, which has an excellent affinity with all beans.

Now I have an allotment large enough for indulgences, I have grown a row of globe artichokes, as I adore artichoke hearts. It is a handsome silver plant, never touched by rabbits, pigeons or deer.  Only blackfly is a nuisance and they wash off. I have had the first large heads in May to eat whole, dipping the sepal bases in butter and lemon juice. Either people are pigs for artichokes or just don’t see what the fuss is about.

In June I picked an enormous quantity of medium sized heads and pickled them in the Italian manner. It took me all evening to prepare them while watching a film on the kitchen telly, because they were really too big for such treatment – the job goes a lot faster with smaller ones. This is an occupation for the lonely or deranged; most sensible people will never consider it.

The preparation is best understood by looking up recipes and videos on the internet, but essentially you cut off the top half of the artichoke heads and most of the stalk and place in water acidified by lemon juice to prevent them from browning. Then you peel round the edge of the base, cut in half from top to stalk and scrape out the fuzz of the flower embryo from the middle. For larger heads, cut into 4.

Poach the artichokes in 2 parts dry white wine, 1 part white wine vinegar, I part water, salt, and the shells and rind of the lemons using for acidulating the prep water. Cook gently for about 8 minutes, then test – they should be only three quarters cooked and still firm. Lay on a tray in a cool place and allow them to dry out for a day. Meanwhile prepare some light olive oil and heat with slices of garlic, whole pepper corns, basil, sage, rosemary, lemon zest, until the additions are just bubbling and sterilised. I add to it and make a pint or two of oil, preferring 1 part olive and 1 part sunflower oil and let it cool..

Sterilise some jars in the oven, then cool and pack them tightly with layers of artichokes and oil and aromatics. Fill up until the heads wedge under the shoulder of the jars and top off with more oil to cover. Squeeze a skewer down the side and press sideways to release all the bubbles. I hope these will store in a dark cupboard to sustain me with the taste of summer for months to come. With any luck, my friends won’t like them. They can have the scones and jam.