Shrimp and Artichokes: A Spring Thanksgiving


Regina Charboneau

To try Regina's recipe for spicy boiled shrimp with artichokes, corn, and potatoes, click here. Spring is my Thanksgiving. I'm thankful for azaleas, artichokes, and Louisiana shrimp.

Spring in the South means many things to me. Daffodils are the first sign that winter is leaving, then azaleas begin to pop in every shade of pink. These flowers fill me with hope and gratitude, and I feel rejuvenated even after a brief Southern winter.

With our first real spring day last Wednesday, I was walking in my garden gathering ideas for what to plant, and I felt an overwhelming feeling of contentment. For one short minute I felt grateful for life and living. I thought about how fortunate I have been; I have experienced being a mother, daughter, sister, friend, wife, lover, and cook. At that moment, I also wished I could add gardener to that list. I begin every spring with great enthusiasm for planting and gardening but by the time summer comes I turn it all over to Robert Jones, who keeps everything green and beautiful at Twin Oaks and does not lose his enthusiasm with the change of a season.

Spring also makes me thankful for artichokes, one my favorite things in the entire food world. One of the oldest known foods, they have drifted in and out of popularity throughout history, beginning in 300 B.C. The Romans thought of the artichoke as an aphrodisiac, but it fell out of favor after the fall of the Roman Empire. It made a comeback in the late 1400s and then became popular in France by the 1500s. It was the French who introduced the artichoke to Louisiana in the early 1800s. Artichokes become irresistible from March until May, whether they are grilled, baked, broiled, stuffed, or boiled.

I remember my first artichoke; it was one of my early food memories. I was in kindergarten in 1960 when there was no preschool and you only went to school for a few hours in the morning. Life was very simple then. I was invited to the house of my classmate, Johnny Weeks, for what we would today call "a play date," a time after school to have lunch and stay and play. This is where I had my first artichoke. I loved everything about it. It was beautiful, the idea of eating something with my hands was a joy, and dipping each petal into melted butter before scrapping it with my teeth to remove the soft meat was new and exciting. When I got to the heart, Johnny's mother showed me how to scrape the fuzzy stuff (which are actually seeds) out with a spoon. I ate the best part, the heart, and I was hooked.

Shrimp come a bit later than artichokes, but like artichokes they have the sweetness of spring. In Louisiana and the coastal areas of Mississippi, where Catholicism has shaped much of the local history and customs, spring brings many celebrations. There is an Italian holiday, St. Joseph's Day, on March 19th with altars of food, mostly baked goods, where people go from house to house to eat and drink. I still am not sure how this found its way into the middle of Lent ... but it did. It is much more popular in New Orleans than in Natchez. There is also the "blessing of the shrimp boats" at the start of shrimp season in many coastal towns in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana.

There are hundreds of ways to prepare shrimp in the South. I love shrimp étouffée, jambalaya, gumbo, Creole, over grits, fried, or in a po' boy. And I love to stuff artichokes with crab dressing, and using a cleaned, cooked artichoke as a nest for bacon-wrapped filet of beef with an abundance of béarnaise sauce is hard to beat.

I also love a Louisiana-style shrimp boil with artichokes, shrimp, potatoes, and sweet corn (if you can get it). It is usually May when the first sweet corn comes from Florida, which I would imagine this year is questionable, with the crazy weather we have had. Here is my recipe for boiled shrimp with artichokes. At this time of year, when both come into season, simple is best.

Recipe: Spicy Boiled Shrimp with Artichokes, Corn, and Potatoes