Seasonal Pantry: Artichokes and memories of a good friend
A couple of years ago, my friend John Kramer called to complain about artichokes.
Why were all the local markets suddenly carrying a thornless variety that had little meat on its petals and didn't cook properly?, he wondered.
I'd noticed the same thing, and after we commiserated awhile, we agreed that it must be some sort of conspiracy, similar to the watermelon cartel that produces melons for lack of seeds, not for flavor. We also agreed to alert each other if we found the traditional Green Globe variety, the ones that feel heavy for their size and are a uniform medium green.
When John died late last month, I thought of this passion he had for artichokes and thought, too, of an article I'd written in the late 1990s about men who do most of the shopping and cooking for their families.
The column was inspired by a book I'd come across, "The Stag Cook Book, Written by Men for Men" (George H. Doran Company, 1922), a little tome inspired by the domestic science movement, which consisted primarily of a group of women attempting to codify nutrition and remove pleasure and delight from the equation. They were reluctant even to acknowledge that the pleasure we take in eating is natural and necessary.
The book is a wry and witty backlash, with contributions from well-known men of the day, including Charlie Chaplin, John Philip Sousa and our own Luther Burbank.
(My story appeared several years ago. I've posted it in its entirety at "Eat This Now" at <a href="http://pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com/14784/the-stag-cookbook-a-tribute-to-a-friend/" target="_blank">pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com</a>.)
John, who was one of two local men I featured in the story, loved to eat as much as he loved to cook. Meals with him were punctuated by little exclamations of pleasure: Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm, he'd say over and over when nibbling something particularly wonderful.
It is fitting, I suppose, that the last time I saw him was at the Sebastopol farmers market, where we frequently ran into each other and traded tips on hidden treasures not to be missed.
"Let's have lunch soon," he said, as I waved so long and responded with an enthusiastic "Yes!"
A few days later, John underwent surgery for a fast-growing brain tumor and would be gone before artichoke season came around again.
Like most true cooks, John Kramer did not refer to recipes all that often, and when he gave me this one he simply described how he cooked, using his expressive hands to demonstrate both quantities and techniques.
He also said that he'd taken to hiding the stuffing in a high cupboard so that his wife and kids didn't eat it all before he'd had a chance to stuff the artichokes. It's that good, he said. I concur.
<strong>John Kramer's Stuffed Artichokes</strong>
Makes 6 servings
<em>6 large Green Globe artichokes</em>
<em> 2 or 3 lemons</em>
<em> 1/4 cup olive oil</em>
<em> 1/4 pound (more or less, to taste) pancetta, prosciutto or ham, minced</em>
<em> 6 garlic cloves, minced</em>
<em> 3 cups fresh breadcrumbs (see note below)</em>
<em> 1 cup minced Italian parsley</em>
<em> 4 ounces (more or less, to taste) Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated</em>
<em> — Kosher salt</em>