Artichokes flourish in the cool and foggy coastal climate of central California. Introduced to the area in the 1880s by Italian immigrants, virtually 100% of the US crop is grown in California; the Monterey Peninsula — also home to Earthbound Farm —is at the heart of the industry. Peak season runs from February through May.
Mature artichokes have four parts: the stem, the overlapping leaves, inedible hairy choke, and the heart (often called the bottom). The terms can be confusing: heart and bottom often refers to the same part, and bottoms are also sometimes called crowns. The heart is part of the base of the artichoke, including the thin, pale leaves attached to it. The bottom is the entire fleshy base without the leaves, the most prized (and succulent) part of the artichoke.
Cooking with fresh artichokes may seem daunting, but it’s really quite straightforward. The simplest way to cook artichokes is to steam them whole. To eat, pull off the leaves, one by one, dip them into melted butter or aioli, and then scrape the soft flesh (or “meat”) from the inside of each leaf by drawing it between your teeth. Once you’ve removed all the leaves, you’ll arrive at the heart of the bud. Scrape off the hairy choke to reveal a hidden taste treasure, the completely edible bottom — your reward for the work of foraging through the leaves! This is finger food at its best.
If you’ve never cooked a fresh artichoke before, delay no longer. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you’ll never consider using tasteless canned or frozen artichokes again. Although they require some effort, artichokes are definitely worth it.
Why choose organic artichokes?
- Choose organic artichokes whenever you can to help keep the residues of conventional agricultural pesticides and fertilizers out of your food. Organic produce is grown without toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, using sustainable farming methods that protect the environment and help keep pesticides out of our soil, air, water and food supply. Organic food is the healthiest choice for people and the planet — and we think it tastes better, too!
How to select and store artichokes
- Look for compact specimens that feel heavy for their size, with dark green leaves that are tightly closed at the tip. When you press the leaves against each other, they should squeak a little — that means they’re fresh.
- A slight discoloration on the leaves is a sign of frost damage known as “winter’s kiss”; it doesn’t affect the artichoke’s quality, and growers claim these specimens are actually sweeter.
- The rounder the artichoke, the larger its delicious heart will be. The stem should be commensurate with the artichoke’s size; it’s an extension of the bottom, meaty and delectable on its own.
- If you don’t eat your artichokes right away, you can put them in a plastic bag, unwashed, and store them in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Tips for using artichokes
- The simplest way to cook artichokes is to steam them whole. Bring about 2-3 inches of water to a rolling boil in a pot large enough to hold your artichokes (plus whatever you’ll use to hold them, like a steamer or special artichoke holders). If you don’t have a steamer, trim the stems so they’ll hold the artichokes level about 1/2 inch above the water. Steam for about 40 to 50 minutes (depending on size), then check the artichokes for doneness; they’re ready to eat when a leaf pulls out easily. Trim away any overcooked part of the stem before serving.
- If your recipe calls for artichoke hearts or bottoms, you need to do a little more work. To keep the cleaned artichokes from discoloring, have a non-reactive bowl of cold water and a fresh lemon, cut in half, ready nearby.
- Cut off and discard the bottom half-inch of the stem of the first artichoke. Starting at the base, bend back the outer leaves until they snap, pulling downward to remove the tough skin. Pull off the first 3-4 rows of leaves in the same way. With a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife, peel the remaining length of the stem. Remove the tough, dark green fibrous parts from the bottom and sides of the artichoke. Rub a cut lemon half over the exposed surfaces to keep them from turning brown (oxidizing).
- Put the artichoke bottom into the bowl of water and squeeze the rest of the lemon half into the water. Prepare the remaining artichokes one by one in the same manner.
- Remove each artichoke bottom from the water, blot dry and cut in half. Rub the remaining lemon over the newly cut surfaces to keep them from discoloring. Scrape the fuzzy, inedible “choke” from the center of each artichoke half with a spoon or a melon baller. When the inside of the artichoke is clean, rinse each in the lemon water one last time, and they’re ready to use in your recipe.