There is a season: Artichokes for my mom

  • It takes a little bit of preparation to turn artichokes from tough thistles to a delectable dish, a process the writer’s mother taught her. MOLLY PARR

  • The writer’s mother, Suzanne Halberstadt Chorowski, pauses outside her front door in Longmeadow in an undated photo. CONTRIBUTED/MOLLY PARR

For the Gazette
Published: 5/7/2021 5:41:21 PM

The day before my very first “There is a Season” column was published, we found out my mom had Stage 4 breast cancer. The world works in mysterious ways, and because I was furloughed, I spent many days with my mother: taking her to chemo appointments at first, caring and visiting with her before and after she went into hospice, and then again in the last few weeks.

I would write my column next to her, as visiting nurses floated around, and would proudly present the published article in print for her to read. As the disease progressed and my mother’s health weakened, I would take to reading the articles to her. I would bring her and my wonderful stepdad the dishes that I cooked.

They would give me notes on what worked in the dish, and what could be improved. After all, it was in my mother’s kitchen that I learned to cook.

Mom, Suzanne HalberstadtChorowski, was born in the South of France, on a farm that my German-Jewish grandparents cared for as they hid from Nazis. Because she spent a dozen years in Provence, my grandmother Lilli’s cooking was a mixture of traditional German dishes, like veal schnitzel, and Mediterranean fruits and vegetables, especially the artichokes that grew throughout the region.

Mom’s cooking reflected that, but she was cooking in western Massachusetts, and her produce came from the farm stands that dot our area. There were always guests at the table, because my mother’s fabulous cooking was known throughout the community.

Every spring she introduced people to fiddlehead ferns that curled and twisted and hid lots of grit that you need to carefully clean. She always served asparagus for Passover, our spring holiday. And there were always artichokes to start festive meals.

Rumor has it that I was the one who taught my stepdad how to eat an artichoke: I was 2, and he was a 30-something surgeon.

Mom passed on April 16, the day before my birthday. My family was joined by my sister and her family for the shiva, or as we jokingly came to call it, Eat, Pray, Love.

Together we remembered my mother and her legacy. She was a teacher for 50 years, loved to garden, and had a great sense of humor. She was a vibrant force of nature — a legend, as one of my friends called her.

One week before she passed, we made chicken schnitzel and artichokes for Shabbat dinner. Like she made, like her mother made: German and Provençal.

I prepped four artichokes like my mom always did: I plucked away the small and browned leaves, shaved off the rough parts of the stem, and cut the thorns off the ends of each leaf using kitchen shears. It’s a lot, but after all, the vegetable is a thistle.

I prepped a large bowl of water, spiked with the juice of two lemons, to acidulate the water and keep the artichokes from browning as they were prepped.

I’ve read that steaming an artichoke takes about a half-hour, but I have not found that to be the case. I prefer boiling them in salted water, especially if you are cooking several of them, but that still takes time, perhaps as long as 45 minutes. You’ll know they are done when a knife slides easily in at the top of the leaves.

For serving, my family tends to do a sort of aioli: half a cup mayo and the juice of half lemon, a crushed head of garlic, and lots of fresh dill. (My mother put dill in everything, a high school friend of mine remembered during shiva.)

If you’re feeling lazy, mix store-bought Italian dressing with mayo; it works, trust me. I’ve read artichokes are wonderful dipped in melted butter, but since the artichokes were usually served at the beginning of a meat meal, I cannot vouch for this. I’m sure it tastes delicious.

In the weeks since my mother’s passing, friends from my community have brought us meals to lessen the burden on me. The food has been amazing and plentiful. I am so very cared for by my community. A true blessing.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and, to be honest, I’m at a loss. I’ve heard that some days will always be hard, regardless of how many years have passed.

I bought some Hadley asparagus that I might roast. Might; mourning is a strange thing. I do plan on serving more artichokes. They aren’t local, but they are a true spring delight. As my mother would say: “What’s not to love?”

Molly Parr lives in Florence with her husband and two young daughters. She’s been writing her food blog, Cheap Beets, since 2010. Send questions or comments to molly.parr@gmail.com.


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