I used to live near Castroville, California. At first glance, it’s an unassuming farming community that you pass through as you’re traveling on your way to Monterey or San Jose.
However, Castroville is very important. Especially in terms of artichokes.
The majority of the artichokes consumed in the United States are grown here. That’s why it’s often called the “Artichoke Center of the World.”
This small community on California’s Central Coast is literally covered with artichoke fields.
The town is tiny, with only about 6,500 residents. Its land mass little more than one square mile. But every available spot, except for the houses, roadways, businesses and churches, seems to be devoted to artichokes. If you drive through Castroville, you’ll see artichokes growing everywhere.
The fields in and around Castroville (a lot of artichokes are also grown in nearby Moss Landing) account for nearly 80 percent of the artichokes sold in California, a state that produces nearly all of the artichokes that will be consumed in the United States.
The artichoke is now California’s official state vegetable.
Anyway, if you’ve ever lived in or near Castroville, you realize it’s a very special place. That’s why I’ve created a page of gift ideas, all focused on this artichoke growing center.
Castroville California Gifts
Artichokes belong to the thistle family. They were first cultivated thousands of years ago in North African and in Sicily. Then, during the medieval period, this vegetable spread throughout the rest of what is now Italy.
Later, artichokes were cultivated in England and elsewhere in Europe. They were brought to the New World by French and Spanish settlers.
Ethnic Italian immigrants, who came from Switzerland are responsible for planting artichokes in the fertile soil in Castroville, which sits just inland from the Pacific Ocean. Some of their descendants still run the region’s larger artichoke farms.
Because of the mild Mediterranean-like climate, artichokes can be grown year around in Castroville and in surrounding communities.
Here is a really cool t-shirt that would certainly please an artichoke lover.
For more than 50 years, the residents of Castroville have held a festival to honor their very favorite thistle. Children have dressed in artichoke costumes and have marched in a parade. The festival runs for an entire weekend each May, and includes an art competition (guess what’s used as the theme) as well as a number of other activities. The festival features a lot of locally produced food.
Each year an “Artichoke Queen” is selected. In 1948, a rising star by the name of Norma Jean Baker was made “Honorary Queen.” She was in the area because she was visiting people she knew in nearby Salinas. We now know her as Marilyn Monroe.
In previous years, the festival has been held in the center of town. However, since it attracts a few thousand people a day, and the business district was getting too crowded, a decision was recently made to move it south to the Monterey Fairgrounds.
It’s now going to be known as the Castroville Artichoke Food and Wine Festival. Monterey County is becoming known for its vineyards and fine wines.
No matter where you are standing or driving in Castroville, you will see real artichokes growing, or artichoke imprints on business. The city seal also features an artichoke.
A number of farm stands near Highway 1 and Route 156, which runs through the center of Castroville, sell fresh artichokes, as well as bottled artichoke hearts and various artichoke souvenirs.
It would be hard to miss the giant green artichoke that’s planted outside of the Giant Artichoke restaurant on Merritt Street that runs along the edge of town. This is where you can order a variety of version of the local specialty, such as deep fried artichoke hearts, artichoke bread and artichoke soup.