Since we're smack in the middle of peak artichoke season, we thought we'd highlight this delightful vegetable. Yes, they're grown and available year round, but Spring is the only time of year to find the heirloom artichoke. This is the original variety of artichoke brought from Italy to California in the early 1900's. To this day, California is the major U.S. producer of artichokes and about 99% of them sold in our stores come from there.
Here's something you may not know - the artichoke is the bud of a plant from the thistle family and if they are not harvested, they will blossom into a non edible blue-violet flower. Artichokes are rich in fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins C and K. They also have another chemical called cynarin that helps with digestion and aids with fat and vitamin absorption. Because of their high amount of fiber, they help to keep blood sugar stable and detox the body of waste, extra cholesterol and toxins. They're also a good source of fiber, providing 10% of an average person's daily requirement of trace mineral iron in just one cup.
Artichokes that are ready to be eaten should have a healthy green color, appear fresh and feel firm. One exception is the Frost Kissed variety which is rare and only available for a limited time. They get their name from when the temperature goes below 32 degrees, which causes the outer layer to turn brown. It may be easy to pass these gems by when you see the brown leaves - but don't - these are known for their intense, nutty flavor and some artichoke lovers say they're even more tender and delicious than the regular green version.
If you're someone who has never cooked a fresh artichoke, give it a try. Ocean Mist Farms
, who have been growing artichokes for more than 90 years, has loads of interesting information on how they are grown, a lessons on artichoke anatomy and varieties, suggestions for cooking and serving, and much more.