How To Grow Cardoons , A Majestic Architectural Plant With A Delicious Secret, Is Back In The Spotlight! Once A Staple In British Vegetable Gardens, This Forgotten Gem Is Prized For Its Creamy Edible Stalks And Stunning Good Looks.

In France I see cardoons in the street markets in the autumn. But I can’t recall see it sold in the UK in over 50 years. It’s a staple edimental in my garden, easy to grow from seed and attaining a large size in months. Then it lives for years and crops every year. Read How To Grow Cardoons in the UK.

A Feast for the Eyes and the Plate

Cardoons share similarities with their cousin, the globe artichoke. They boast attractive green silvery-grey leaves and reach an impressive height, towering over your veggie patch or borders with vibrant purple thistle flowers in summer. But unlike artichokes, cardoons are grown for their thick, flavorful stems, enjoyed for their earthy, artichoke-like taste.

Bringing Back the Cardoon

Growing cardoons is easier than you might think! Here’s a step-by-step guide:

Cardoon are common in French markets. But ion the UK they area Vegetable Crop NotCommonly Found In Supermarkets
  • Sowing: Start seeds indoors in pots as early as February, or sow directly outside from April to June when the soil warms up.
  • Sunshine and Space: Cardoons thrive in a sunny location with well-drained soil. They’ll need plenty of space to mature, so plant them 3 feet (90 cm) apart. If you put them in a flour border just plant other things close to them and let them fight it out .. I do! Between them they fill the border and keep the weeds at bay.
  • Low Maintenance Marvels: Cardoons are remarkably resilient. Water them well during dry spells and keep them weed-free. They’re naturally hardy and rarely bothered by pests. Well, that’s the formal advice. But to be honest I don’t water after they’ve established and they keep the weeds down on their own when grown in mixed beds.
  • The Art of Blanching: In September to November, prepare for the harvest by blanching the stems. This involves wrapping the stalks in cardboard or sacking to exclude light, making them more tender and removing bitterness. It’s worth the effort.

Harvesting and Enjoying Cardoons

After 3-4 weeks of blanching, you can harvest individual stems or cut the entire plant at the base, leaving the root intact for next year’s growth. Cardoons are best enjoyed cooked. Simply remove the leaves, peel the outer layer of the stalks,and simmer them until tender. They make a delightful addition to gratins, fried dishes, or any recipe that calls for a touch of earthy elegance. See recipes below.

Cardoons: More Than Just a Vegetable

Cardoons are a bee magnet, attracting pollinators with their vibrant blooms. Their architectural form also adds a touch of drama to borders and vegetable gardens. Mine grow up top 6ft/2 metres high, and add a rare elegance to the borders.

Rediscover the Cardoon & Enjoy Some Garden History

With its impressive looks, delicious taste, and ease of care, the cardoon is a fantastic addition to any garden. So, give this forgotten favourite a try and experience the joy of growing and savouring a unique and versatile crop!

The history of the cardoon goes back several millennia. The cardoon was popular in Roman, Greek and Persian cuisine, and remained popular in medieval and early modern Europe. It has been eaten in France for thousands of years and is now gaining in popularity in the UK.

Cardoon Recipes

Creamy Cardoon Gratin: A Veggie Feast

This gratin is a celebration of cardoons, a unique vegetable with a flavour that combines celery and artichoke heart. The creamy cheese sauce and golden brown crust create a comforting and delicious vegetarian main course, perfect for a cosy autumn meal.

What You’ll Need (Serves 4):

  • 250ml double cream
  • 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1.5-2kg cardoons, trimmed and chopped into 2cm crescents (see tip below)
  • 100g grated hard cheese (Cheddar, Gruyère, or similar)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparing the Cardoons (Chef Stefan’s Tip):

Cardoons require some preparation before cooking. These beautiful plants have tough, bitter stalks when raw. Here’s how to handle them:

  1. Remove the leaves.
  2. Trim the prickly edges of the stalks.
  3. Cut the stalks into 2cm crescents.
  4. To prevent browning, place the chopped cardoons in acidulated water (water with a squeeze of lemon juice).

Bringing it Together:

  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.
  2. Combine the cream, stock, and bay leaf in a large saucepan. Season generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Add the prepared cardoons to the pan and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for up to 1 hour, or until the cardoons are tender.
  4. Discard the bay leaf and transfer the mixture to a gratin dish.
  5. Sprinkle the top with grated cheese and bake for approximately 30 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling.

Serve and Enjoy!

This creamy cardoon gratin pairs beautifully with crusty bread and a side salad for a satisfying vegetarian meal. For a heartier option, consider adding some cooked potatoes to the gratin dish before baking.

Embrace the Season:

Cardoons are a fantastic autumn vegetable. With their unique flavour and creamy cheese sauce, this gratin is a delicious way to embrace the season’s bounty. So, gather your ingredients and give this recipe a try!

Roman-Style Fried Cardoons: A Crispy Treat

This recipe creates a light and crispy fried cardoon dish, perfect as a starter or side dish.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes Cooking Time: 1 hour 17 minutes 

Total Time: 1 hour 37 minutes Serves: 6

Ingredients: Approx weights

  • 700g (1 bunch) cardoons, trimmed and peeled
  • 125ml white wine
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 190g plain flour
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 185g dried breadcrumbs
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Salt, to taste

Optional Garnishes:

  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Chopped parsley
  • Lemon wedges


  1. Boil the Cardoons: Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Cut the cardoons into inch long pieces and add them to the pot with the white wine, thyme sprigs, and lemon halves. Cook until the cardoons are tender, 30 mins plus!  Drain the water and discard the lemon and thyme. Let the cardoons cool completely.
  2. Prepare the Coating: Line up three shallow dishes. Fill one with the flour, the second with the beaten eggs, and the third with the breadcrumbs.
  3. Double Coat the Cardoons: Dredge each cooled cardoon piece in the flour, then dip it in the beaten egg. Finally,coat it thoroughly in the breadcrumbs. Repeat the egg and breadcrumb coating for an extra-crispy finish. Set the coated cardoons aside on a plate.
  4. Heat the Oil and Fry: Heat vegetable oil in a deep fryer of frying pan, to 175°C (350°F).
  5. Fry in Batches: Working in batches, carefully fry the breaded cardoons in the hot oil for 1-2 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer the fried cardoons to a plate lined with paper towels to drain excess oil. Season immediately with salt.
  6. Serve and Enjoy: Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley or coriander (optional). Serve hot with lemon wedges for squeezing over the cardoons.

Feel free to share your cardoon recipes in the comments section below.

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