Growing up, artichokes were always seen as a great treat in my family. It only occurs to me now that there may be some link with the fact that they are a perfect excuse for eating lakes of melted butter.
The ritual of pulling off the individual leaves, dipping their fat bottoms in butter and scraping off the flesh with your teeth (among my gap-toothed family, there was much comparison of the different toothmarks possible); the leaves getting thinner and softer until you could pull them off in hanks; the moment at which you gave up on the leaves to pull off what remained in order to get to the tricky task of removing the choke - if you get it perfectly right, it pulls away leaving the dimpled surface of the heart intact - in order to get to the heart of the matter, which was then itself dipped in the remaining puddle of melted butter; savouring the strangely changed taste of water drunk with the flavour of artichoke on your tongue; all of this was pure joy.
Occasionally we visited the only other family we knew who ate these bizarre, prickly beasts and then we had to keep quiet while they told us at length about how wonderful their artichoke dipping sauces was. Made with red wine, it was nice enough, but we always exchanged glances over the table and yearned for our own melted butter.
As a teenager I introduced a friend to our homegrown artichokes, helping her through the elaborate ritual. Finally, I sat back, waiting for her cries of joy and gratitude.
"It's a lot of work, isn't it?" was her only comment.
The importance of this ritual, along with an Irish Protestant aversion to waste, means I was never able to follow any recipe that required only the heart of the artichoke - the idea of throwing away all the leaves is shocking.
But luckily, I have discovered that for some things, tinned artichoke hearts are perfectly acceptable. Although I probably wouldn't use them for a dish where they had to sit whole and beautiful, they make very nice (and instant) dip.
Just drain and purée a tin of artichoke hearts with some crushed garlic, lemon juice and lots of olive oil, season and serve with a slick of olive oil on top, perhaps with some chopped parsley or basil, or a sprinkle of paprika, to liven up the dull beige appearance, and you have a delicious dip to accompany an aperitif.
Just remember not to serve it with wine.