The Cactus Patch
Volume 9       June 2006      Number 6

More Martha
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

The 18th of April was another spoiled birthday. I arrived at work only to find the place had been burgled again. This time a computer was taken. It would have to be the one with all the herbarium data! Fortunately there is back-up material, but it is a nuisance.

The next day Polly and her sister Martha drove over to Pretoria and had a hotel lunch with Martha's friend. After lunch they ran into a demonstration which blocked traffic, but they still managed to get to Sterkfontein and tour the cave next day. Martha agreed there are too many stairs and they skipped the Wonder Cave; they drove back to Gaborone.

On the 21st we went to dinner at Chatters, a restaurant with a parrot theme. We have had good food there before, but this time it was a disaster. Martha's pork chops were almost raw and my salmon was dry and hard as a rock. Polly’s pasta had so much raw chopped chili that it was inedible, even after she picked out a lot for me. And to think we almost went there with John and the seven other cavers.

Saturday the 22nd we went to Gabane and toured the pottery, glass engravers and sculptors. Then it was on to Thamaga for more pottery and a visit with the Cooks (and delicious cookies). The next day we went to Manyana, but the custodian was missing and we couldn't see the rock paintings. We got lost but eventually found Livingstone's fig, which fortunately is quite visible without going in the gate. Then it was down the road to Livingstone's mission where Al, the caretaker, was present and gave us a good tour. Then we had a good gourmet lunch at the Big Five Lodge. Unfortunately a strong wind eventually blew us indoors although we had chosen to sit outside. Finally we ended the day at the Gaborone Game Reserve where we saw a good assortment of the usual animals as well as a good number of large Golden Web spiders.

On Monday and Tuesday Polly and Martha did a bit of shopping so that Martha could treat Polly's Book Club to a gourmet feast on Wednesday. (Martha does catering in Fresno.) Unfortunately only a few of them showed up. There was enough food left so that Polly's friend Maggie could come back the next evening with her husband Bruce.

On the 28th we went to see "Last Holiday", a much better film than I expected. It was especially appropriate as it centered around a luxury hotel in the Czech Republic along with gourmet cooking. Unfortunately Martha had to leave on the 29th. We have had a restful time since then. On the 2nd of May the German Embassy began another series at the film club. They began with "Nowhere in Africa", a story of a Jewish family who escaped the holocaust by fleeing to Kenya. We had missed it when it was shown here previously. It turned out to be well worth waiting for.

We had some unusual rain and even a hailstorm the first week of May. It is now dry as it usually is in May, but the cold of winter came early and is sticking (although it hasn't quite got down to freezing yet).

Martha brought the book "Under the Tuscan Sun" (Francis Mayes, 1997, Broadway Books, NY) to read on the plane and left it with us. Although we liked the film, the book seemed daunting to me, as it is a combined travelogue and cookbook. No wonder Martha liked it.

It did have one saving grace - it explained the name Cardoon! The recipe says, " After stripping a large bunch of cardoons and bathing them in acidulated water, cut in two-inch pieces and boil until just done. Drain and arrange in a well-buttered baking dish. Season with salt and pepper and lightly cover with a béchamel sauce…dots of butter, and a sprinkling of parmogiano. Bake @ 350 deg. for 20 minutes." So what is this thing and why do I care?

Perhaps I should begin with the BCSS. A long while back we had a couple of trips to Baja and I learned the big cacti there (Pachycereus pringlei) are known locally as cardon. Then in April 2004 Polly & I visited the Canaries and learned that Euphorbia canariensis is also known as cardon. Then Maynard Moe through me for a loop when he wrote in "The Cactus Patch" (May 2004) that, "'Cactus' is an ancient Greek term for a spiny plant. When first used it referred to cardoon, the artichoke." Now I grew up with artichokes (my Grandfather grew them in Stockton and I have bought them in Castroville, the "Artichoke capitol of the world") and I don't see the resemblance.

So back to Tuscany. The book Martha brought says, "As long as your arm, prickly, and pale green, Cardoons are trouble but worth it." Now this sounds more like it. Further down I read, "They have a taste and texture similar to the heart of an artichoke - not surprising since they come from the same family." (This would be the composites or Asteraceae.)

Well, I looked them up in a dictionary (The Plant Book - a Portable Dictionary of the Higher Plants, D.J. Mabberley, 1987, Cambridge U. Press.) and found the cardoon is Cynara cardunculus. The common (or Globe or French) artichoke is Cynara scolymus, so they are much closer than just the family; they are the same genus. The Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus, is the same family, but a different genus. The related sunflower (not called an artichoke) is Helianthus annuus. This is not to be confused with the Mexican sunflower, which is in a different genus as Tithonia diversifolia. In Botswana, we have Tithonia rotundifolia, but it is not referred to as a sunflower. (It is an introduced weed.) Finally, to return to artichokes, there is a Chinese or Japanese artichoke which is not in the same family. It is Stachys affinis which is in the mint family! We have Stachys spathulata in Botswana, but it is not called an artichoke. Common names can get confusing, which is why scientific names were invented. (Not that they don't have problems!)

Martha and Polly at the Big Five

A Golden Web spider.

Alfred, Martha and Polly at the foundation of the Livingstone house at Kolobeng.
The treatment stone was said to be used to seat patients.

PREVIOUS LETTER               Bruce's Letters               NEXT LETTER