Let’s get to the heart of it: it is great to have festivals back.
The Artichoke Festival, as one of the area’s longest running and thoroughly unique events, represents a triumphant way to usher in a new era of socially distant and safely produced larger scale celebrations.
Organizers anticipate upwards of 8,000 visitors over the July 24-25 weekend for the 61st installment of the annual event, this one themed, “Thistle be a good time.”
Featured Photo: Reut Malichi
So bring on the fried artichoke, steamed artichoke and grilled artichoke, the artichoke lumpia, artichoke burritos, artichoke sausage, artichoke cupcakes and artichoke ice cream.
An important note: Those classics represent but a fraction of the fare.
Chef demos up the artistry and imagination. Chef Daniel Elinan, executive chef at The Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel & Spa and Eduardo, executive chef of Rio Grill in Carmel, headline the professional artichoke preparations.
A farmers market spread widens the epicurean options further with seasonal produce like asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, corn, peas, fennel, green onions, leeks, mixed lettuce, rapini, spinach and many others, offered at special festival rates.
Spoiler alert: Fresh artichokes of all sizes will also be on sale.
The market also hosts “Talk to a Grower” crash courses in artichoke husbandry with local farmers based in Castroville, Artichoke Capital of the World, which neighbors the Monterey Peninsula to the north and crowned Marilyn Monroe (then Norma Jeane Mortenson) as its first Artichoke Festival Queen.
Recently added competitions, happening both days on the main stage, add their own intrigue, from an artichoke-harvesting competition using the same “canasta” baskets deployed in the fields to an artichoke eating contest.
Lost and Found Band and The Chicano All Stars lead a lineup of live entertainment. Meanwhile Gold Coast Rods hosts a show starring collectible pre-1985 American cars punctuated with an awards ceremony Sunday afternoon. A swath of area artisans set up prepped foods, craft treasures and other handmade finds — think artichoke hummus, custom jewelry and craft soaps.
Younger thistle enthusiasts will flock toward Arti the Artichoke, the iconic mascot of Ocean Mist Farms, and enjoy rides and games like the Ferris wheel and 100-foot Super Slide.
Best of all, the proceeds benefit nonprofit organizations and programs that serve the greater Castroville community. This year’s nonprofit partners include Partnership for Children and the Marina Lions Club.
Tickets run $15 for adults; $5 for youth 6-12, $10 for active military and seniors (62+); children under 6 are free. More at ArtichokeFestival.org.