Dave Johnson/Bay Area News Group
Dave Johnson/Bay Area News Group

Spring has sprung, and daffodils, tulips and other flowers are in full bloom. In the produce world, the original edible flower is also in season -- the flowering bud of the Mediterranean thistle plant, the artichoke. For the next six to eight weeks, the seaside town of Castroville comes alive with trucks, tractors and the harvesters, who lop off each beautiful choke with a knife, toss the bud into the big bags slung over their shoulders and move on to the next plant. Put it to music, and you've got yourself a beautiful dance in the artichoke fields.

These early artichokes are always huge because they are the top flower, the terminal bud of the plant. When you choose your artichokes at the farmers market or grocery store, look for three things. First, look for fat stems: The fatter the stem, the bigger the heart. Then pick one up. The heavier it is, the more flesh is on the leaves. Finally, give it a quick squeeze. A really fresh artichoke will squeak. Some readers have mentioned that they avoid artichokes whose leaves are opening, thinking that's not a good artichoke. Actually, that's a perfect choke. The inner leaves, however, should be very tight.

You should find these "jumbo" artichokes selling for $1.50 to $2 each. By the way, if you are trimming the stems off your fresh herbs, use those stems in the water for your artichokes. It adds extra flavor.


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Michael Marks is the marketing manager for FreshPoint.

In the Bins
Napa cabbage
Oxnard
79 to 99 cents per pound
Tips: Spring means Napa cabbage gets brown spots and a hard center from bolting, which is a problem. Squeeze the cabbage. If it feels hard in the middle, take a peek. You probably don't want to buy that one.
Ataulfo mango
Mexico
$1 to $1.25 each
Tips: Baseball season coincides with the start of Mexico's mango season. These early Ataulfos from southern Mexico have a lovely, smooth texture. When the skin starts to wrinkle, that means it's ripe.
Onions
Washington, Nevada, Mexico
$1.49 to $1.79 per pound
Tips: A lot of old-crop onions are still in the markets. Check the neck: That's where an onion starts to decay. If it's soft, pull back a few layers. If there is mold or decay, pick another onion.