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Jaggy MacBee walks towards retirement

Jaggy MacBee walks towards retirement

Today’s post comes from the thrilling (?) world of international football aka soccer [Ed. Are you sure this is right?]  Although, to American eyes, soccer sometimes seems to lack critical elements of sport (excitement, skill, scoring, and so forth), it definitely has the most important thing: wacky mascots!  In fact, soccer arguably has the wackiest mascots, as is very emphatically demonstrated by the new mascot of the Scottish football team Partick Thistle (er, that’s apparently the name of their soccer club, not the new spokesbeing).  Apparently the old mascot, Jaggy MacBee, (pictured above) was not edgy enough for something as riot-inducing as Scottish football.  Fortunately, the new mascot, pictured below in all of his (its?) stark raging horror is nothing but edges!  Well, that isn’t entirely true, “Kingsley” the yellow thistle also has a mouth-breathing look of angry stupor and a unibrow to go with his (its?) sharpened head.

“Kingsley” the thistle mascot

The internet has been abuzz with sarcastic quips about the ambulatory thistle and with wistful nostalgia for the unemployed bee (as indeed was almost certainly the intent of some sinister group of marketers behind the entire switch).  Even despite the transparently manipulative nature of the upgrade, there really is something poignant about the substitution.  Bees are fading from our pesticide-heavy world (as we will discuss in a real post tomorrow) while irritating characters specifically and solely designed to create an angry emotional response are proliferating.

“Why won’t anyone sit with me?”

Also, Kingsley is not unfunny.  He has his own particular Alfred Jarry flavor, as was the intent of the responsible artist David Shrigley, who designs deliberately crude cartoons to mock the shirking anomie of contemporary mass culture (at least that’s how I am going to interpret them).  How would you design a thistle mascot? It is not necessarily an easy challenge, although I know my submission would have been more purple and baroque—like everything I make.  Stay tuned for the further adventures of Kingsley and Jaggy MacBee.  I get the sense we haven’t heard the last of these guys—if for no other reason than the obtrusive attention-seeking of their makers.

"Eh...what are you gonna do?"

“Eh…what are you gonna do?”

stuffed artichoke from eat-spin-run-repeat.com

stuffed artichoke from eat-spin-run-repeat.com

The appetizer for the first dinner I ate in New York City was an artichoke baked with Parmesan, crumbs, and olive oil.  It was the first time I remember eating an artichoke (although I must surely have eaten some anonymous slimy dip in the 80s).  It was delicious!  Artichokes are still one of my favorite foods and they still remind me of how exciting it was to be in New York for the first time. But personal recollections aside, what is an artichoke?  The answer is as amazing and unexpected as the vegetable itself.

A field of artichokes

A field of artichokes

The first time I tried to cook an artichoke, I bought a couple of likely specimens and included them with my grocery purchase:  the poor teenage grocery clerk grabbed them from the conveyor belt like they were tomatoes and then screamed. It turns out that artichokes are a sort of thistle: they have sharpened spikes on the edges of their leaves (I’m really sorry the clerk hurt her hands:  I would have warned her if I had only known she was unfamiliar with artichokes).  Domestic artichokes (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) are a variety of cardoons–wild thistle flowers which are native to Italy, Spain, and North Africa.  Cardoons are part of the aster family (along with daisies, scottish thistles, and sunflowers) and were eaten by humans in prehistory.  It is unclear whether the Greeks and Romans domesticated the spiky plants (although they certainly knew of cardoons), however by the middle ages Muslim farmers were breeding the vegetables to be bigger and tastier.

The Wild Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus)

The Wild Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus)

Cardoons are hardy perennial flowers which grow up to 1.5 meters (60 inches) in height and produce purple flowers from a large spiky capitulum.  The capitulum is the portion of the artichoke which we eat.  If it is allowed to sprout into a flower, it becomes dry, leathery, and inedible unless you are a ruminant (in which case, why are you reading this?).  The world’s farmers currently grow about 1.4 million tons of artichokes a year–the vast majority of which still come from Italy.  There is even a delicious artichoke bitter liquor made of artichokes!

Cynara4_artichokeXwildcardoon_offspring

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