Photo by Anastatia Curley
When children visit the Yale Farm, one of the games I like to play with them is "guess this vegetable!" Kids, and many adults, used to finding tomatoes wrapped in cellophane and supermarket displays of potatoes, are entranced when they learn how different vegetables look growing in the ground.
The great thing about "guess this vegetable" is that, like any good game, it has levels of difficulty. Tomatoes and lettuce are easy. But could you identify the leaves of a potato plant? Or tell how they look different from sweet potato leaves? And my current favorite Yale Farm vegetable, the real stumper: could you name the plant that's tall and spiny and looks like only a donkey would want to eat it?
Cardoons are an odd, mysterious, difficult-looking plant. Right now, after a long season of growth, ours are over six feet tall, crowned with spiny flowers. Earlier this summer, our interns wrapped the bottom foot or so of each of the plants in newspaper, to blanch the stems. Above their newspaper jackets, they flaunt four feet or so of long, dramatic, prickly-looking leaves, from which emerge those spiky flowers.
Especially now that they're the height of a tall man, there's something a little bit human--or at least scarecrow-like--about them; their height makes them lean over, their strange, artichoke-like flowers bending towards one another. I find this oddly touching.