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Playing a Trick on Artichokes
Why They're Available Year-round

California’s climate doesn’t deserve the credit for a virtually year-round artichoke harvest. Plant scientists in San Diego do. They created the Imperial Star, which unlike old-fashioned artichokes, is an annual planted from seed each spring. The plants are shocked with growth regulators during the summer and fall, tricked into producing a choke in the winter when artichoke plants prefer to rest.

The artichokes that have been available in farmers markets all winter long have been these new-fangled annual varieties. It is old-fashioned Green Globe perennial artichokes that are now flooding the market. They still account for the lion’s share of the choke crop, and the peak of their harvest runs from March through May, when half of the yearly haul of artichokes reaches the market.

Besides the time of harvest, there is another way to tell the difference. Imperial Stars are spineless. If you’ve grown accustomed to them over the winter, beware the ones you’ll now bring home. Green Globes have thorns.

There is one artichoke oddity that you’ll find only in farmers markets. Chokes with stems a foot or more in length. That’s how the Italians prefer their chokes. But you won’t find them in supermarkets because artichokes shipped through packing houses have to adhere to regulations that require them to be trimmed to uniform standards.

The best artichokes are heavy, with a tight bud, according to the experts. Sandy Der, the purchasing agent for Hawthorne Restaurant in San Francisco, offers another insiders’ tip: look for brown mark on the sides and leaf edges of the chokes, tell-tale signs of frost damage, which improves the flavor

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