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Getting to the heart of artichoke season in California

Thorny thistle is tricky to harvest, easy to enjoy.


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If you've ever driven along the Central Coast and wondered what those plants with the overgrown green leaves are, you're not alone. At first glance, it's difficult to decipher what the plants could be. But look a little closer and you'll discover one of the hidden beauties of California agriculture: artichokes! And there's no better place to learn about artichokes than Ocean Mist Farms. The folks there have been devoted to growing the thorny thistles since 1924 and today Ocean Mist is the largest artichoke grower in North America.

California farmers grow 100 percent of the U.S. crop of artichokes and it's no easy task. It takes skill, speed and smarts out in the field to get the job done right. Workers begin by scouring the field looking for the right-sized artichoke, which they quickly harvest and then toss over their back into a specially made artichoke harvesting backpack called a canasta. From there they take it to a nearby packing truck, where each artichoke is inspected and packed. Only the best of the best make it through to stores.

If you're not sure what to do with an artichoke once you get it home from the store, Monterey chef Tony Baker is your man. He's been working with Ocean Mist Farms for the past 11 years to create simple and delicious recipes using artichokes. His goal is to come up with at least two dozen new recipes each year that he can teach to people wondering what to do with the thorny vegetable.

"It's funny. In California, there are few strangers to artichokes, but once you start getting into other parts of the country, people are fascinated by them," Tony said. "I find most people are somewhat intimidated, but once they learn what to do with them, it's a lot of fun and they enjoy them.

To find out more about Ocean Mist Farms, see Tony's recipe for baked artichokes or join the Ocean Mist Artichoke club, visit  www.oceanmist.com.


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