This post was actually written by my Aunt, Virginia Lee Abbate Thompson, in response to a writing prompt in a course she attended at the University of North Carolina. She was given 10 minutes. She is amazing! Enjoy:
It was my father who taught us to enjoy artichokes. He would boil them whole in salted water. When he was able to easily pull off an outer petal with tongs, the chokes were done. Then he would pull each artichoke out of its boiling bath with the same tongs, squeeze it gently over the pot until the steaming water had drained from between the petals, and place it on your plate together with a generous pat of soft butter and a small circle of salt.
He taught us to pick up each petal by the cactus end, dip the soft end in butter and salt, then, placing the buttered end in your mouth, draw it through your teeth so that its soft outer layer floated in a delicious salty sea of butter in your mouth. The remainder of each petal was discarded in a common bowl in the center of the table.
He taught us to eat each petal until we reached the flower center. There we separated the tender soft center (choke) from the spines that surround it. We learned to remove the spines and discard them so that we were free to enjoy the soft heart with even more butter and salt. It was a treat to remember.
Once when we were together at home on a hot summer afternoon, my mother told me that when she and my father were first married they lived in New York City. They had been invited to a very elegant dinner given by someone she remembered only as “the artichoke king.” She recalled that only a week later she had read in one of the newspapers that he had been machine-gunned down on his own doorstep. "What a shock,” she said shaking her head. “ I couldn’t believe it.”
Many years later, I found a job working for New York City District Attorney Frank Hogan’s chief investigator. Among other things, I was keeper of his files.
Remembering my mother’s story, I looked up “the artichoke king" in their top-secret files. There I learned that former Mayor Fiorello Laguardia had “regulated” the infamous artichoke king out of business. Perhaps it was because of this defeat that the “king” was later demoted by his new boss, Lucky Luciano, and died from a stroke at age 49.
I’m still wondering who it actually was my parents had dinner with that night, and who was actually machine-gunned down a week later! My mother had always been so disciplined and accurate, but she was also somewhat naïve, and Sicilian men just don’t believe in telling anyone, their wives especially, what is really going on.
As a post script, I have done just a tiny bit of research to see if I could make any connections here but I come up short as well. There is a lot of information on the web about "The Artichoke King" and his life in the Morello crime family in New York. Maybe you can come up with a connection.... I was always told that my grandfather changed his last name from Abbate to Abbott to get out of the "mob" and I thought that was just a "romantic" version of why he would do that. Hmmm, maybe there is more truth to that story than I thought!