Globe artichokes are the large, unopened flower bud of a plant belonging to the thistle family. The many leaf-like parts making up the bud are called scales. Peak season is in April and May.
Artichokes are actually a flower bud - if allowed to flower, blossoms measure up to seven inches in diameter and are a violet-blue color. Artichokes are a close relative to the thistle.
The artichoke was first developed in Sicily and was known to both the Greeks and the Romans. In 77 AD the Roman naturalist Pliny called the choke one of earth's monstrosities, but many continued to eat them. Historical accounts show that wealthy Romans enjoyed artichokes prepared in honey and vinegar, seasoned with cumin, so that this treat would be available year round.
It was not until the early twentieth century that artichokes were grown in the United States. All artichokes commercially grown in the United States are grown in California.
In the U.S., Artichokes were first grown in Louisiana, brought there by settlers in the 19th century.
Castroville, California is known as the Artichoke Capital of the World. And it is where Norma Jean (Marilyn Monroe) was crowned Artichoke Queen in 1947.
Cynar is an artichoke flavored aperitif made in Italy.