Her outdoors: for fussy eaters

Jane Merrick

My daughter, Girl Outdoors, turns four later this month. We are deep into birthday party season at the moment – it’s all birthday cakes, jellies, ice cream. I try and try and try to get her to eat more fruit and veg than normal to compensate, but it’s pretty difficult. Actually, she hardly eats any fruit of any kind, ever. She will eat banana and melon “but only pre-school banana and melon” she tells me, as if this is extra specially lovely fruit and the stuff we get at home is just horrid.

Her vegetable-eating is a bit better: broccoli, peas and carrots. But that’s it. Despite her eating tonnes of all fruit and veg – apples, pears, strawberries – when she was weaning, aged two-and-a-half she suddenly got fussy. When we have an allotment, you would think she would love her fruit and veg. It is a phase I hope will pass. The other day, however, came a revelation. Last month my two artichoke plants, put in the ground last year, started to crop, so Him Indoors and I have been having about one a week (it’s not masses but it’s only a newish plant). One evening earlier this week, as we shared the latest (and possibly last) artichoke from Plot 35a, the girl (who had already eaten) asked if she could try some.

Artichokes are notoriously fiddly vegetables. They demand a proper simmer for about 40 minutes, then you have to peel each leaf back to get a tiny bit of flesh. Once all the leaves are gone, you have to get your knife out and scrape away the hairy choke. Oh, but all of this fiddliness is worth it for what is underneath – the delicious, tender heart smothered in melted butter and scuffed with sea salt. It is one of my favourite tastes of anything, anywhere, ever.

So, we gave the girl a couple of leaves and showed her how to bite away the tiny bit of flesh. I waited for her to say “Yuck!” which she says about pretty much everything – including the smell of sweet peas and allotment-grown strawberries. But instead she said “Yum!” She got through loads of the leaves and then we split the heart three ways. She loved it. Who would have thought that one of the most fussy eaters I know would love the fussiest vegetable there is.

Anyway, it seems a good time to include a picture of my artichoke plant now. This is what it looked like in May:

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Artichoke emerging from centre of plant in May

And as the globe of the artichoke started to grow:

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Iris "Lion King" against statuesque leaves of Globe Artichoke

And where it went wrong: this was after a particularly wet week at the end of May, when I went away and came back to find a lot of things eaten by slugs and insects. I think this is a combination of rotting leaves and aphid/ant attack. The interest of the ladybird would suggest it’s aphids.

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Artichoke attacked possibly by insects

I started these artichokes off from seed two years ago. They need gentle heat on a windowsill or propagator, then to be hardened off during the first summer as little seedlings, but kept in pots. The second spring they will be fairly sturdy and should be planted out after frost. There won’t be a crop in this first full year. Give it a liquid, high-potash feed during the summer. In the autumn, mulch around the plant with well-rotted manure or leaf mould. The foliage will die back in winter. But all of this feeding in the summer and autumn should ensure it is storing up energy for some great artichokes the following season.

Start feeding again come the spring, and you’ll be rewarded with your first artichokes by the end of May. Repeat the feed-mulch-feed routine until the following spring to get cropping year after year. Here is my first harvested artichoke (with some new potatoes, broad beans and shallots):

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Artichoke, new potatoes and broad beans

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