Most people know that each state has an official bird, a tree or a flower, but did you know that some states also have a vegetable? And this weekend (June 3-4, 2017), California is celebrating its noble state vegetable, the artichoke, at the annual Castroville Artichoke Food & Wine Festival. The artichoke, best known for its delicious fleshy lower portion called the “heart” has its roots as far back in human history as ancient Greece. It is generally believed that the artichoke was first introduced in the U.S. by the French in Louisiana in the 19th century, and then later brought to California by the Spanish. Since its introduction to California, specifically the Monterey Peninsula, it has flourished and intertwined itself within whole communities and local industries that rely and depend on this valuable vegetable for their livelihoods. While the artichoke undoubtedly shares a close connection to California agriculture, it took a true grassroots effort in 2013 to see the food designated California’s official state vegetable, beating other Cali fan favorite foods like almonds, avocados, crab, sourdough bread and grapes/wine along the way.
Given the artichoke’s recent designation, and in order to accommodate the increasing number of festival attendees this year, the Artichoke Festival, which dates back to 1959, will take place at the Monterey County Fair and Event Center. Previously, the festival was held annually in Castroville because that’s where those pioneering first artichoke shoots were planted in 1922. Today, nearly all of America’s fresh artichoke supply is grown in California and nearly two-thirds is grown in the small town of Castroville (which is precisely why the region is aptly known as the “Artichoke Center of the World”), according to the festival’s website.
The festival is a much-anticipated event for locals and visitors alike because it features family fun activities, including local chef demonstrations, a culinary competition that combines creativity, agriculture and art, and live music. Presenting sponsor and local Castroville grower Ocean Mist Farms will supply the artichokes for the festival, and will host field tours for attendees to demonstrate how fresh artichokes are grown and harvested. The event will also include a farmers’ market featuring artichokes and artichoke-based items like hummus, pasta sauce, herb bread and artichoke-shaped cookies; an Agro-Art competition, in which participants grouped from adult to kindergarten, compete to create a 3-D fruit and vegetable sculpture; and a wine and beer garden featuring delicious offerings produced by De Tierra Vineyards, Guerra Cellars, Twisted Barrel Winery, Ratel Cider, Alvarado Street Brewery and Fogs End Distillery, to name a few.
Some of Monterey’s top chefs and food personalities will also be present at the festival, including Tony Baker of Montrio Bistro and Baker’s Bacon, Jerry Regester of the Santa Lucia Preserve, Butch Francis of Cowboy Sausage & Chili Company and Angela Tamura of Pèppoli will showcase the versatility of the artichoke on this year’s demo stage. And no Castorville Artichoke Food & Wine Festival would be complete without Pat Hopper, manager of the Artichoke Advisory Board, and her annual (and much-anticipated) ABC’s of Artichokes presentation. For those visitors who attend the festival longing for a taste of the delicious and versatile vegetable itself, they will not be disappointed in the plethora of options available. There’s everything from steamed, grilled and fried artichokes, to artichoke burritos, artichoke cupcakes, cheesecake and ice cream.
In addition to being able to enjoy the artichoke prepared in nearly every way imaginable under the California sun, the festival also features a variety of live musical acts that are sure to please, including Uptown Funk, a Bruno Mars tribute band; the Surf City Allstars, the only Beach Boys tribute band in the world where every member of the band toured with The Beach Boys; Operation Rock, the Monterey Peninsula’s premier youth band, which in 2015, won the Pacific Grove Battle of the Bands competition; and local favorite, The Chicano All Stars, all guaranteed to entertain attendees and keep the party going throughout the weekend.
“People who know and love artichokes are proud to know what to do with such a unique vegetable, so this festival feels like a club where foodies from all over get to share their love for the California state vegetable,” says Diana McClean, director of marketing at Ocean Mist Farms and board member for the Castroville Artichoke Food & Wine Festival. “Proceeds from the festival go toward helping the local community, so people enjoy giving back and seeing their community impacted for good. Plus, who doesn’t want to be in Monterey, California in June? It’s a beautiful celebration of artichokes in one of the most beautiful towns!”
Sounds like fun to us! If you’re in the area, make sure to stop by the festival, and definitely let us know how that artichoke ice cream tastes. And if you're on a long road trip, be sure to visit some of the best Texas Hill Country wineries!