The thicker the artichoke stem, the bigger the heart

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Artichokes are in season now in Southern California. Spanish settlers introduced these spiny plants to California in the early 1900's. They took to the damp cool coastal parts of the state so remarkably that today 99% of artichokes sold in the US are grown here.

It takes one year for an artichoke to grow. At Smith Farms, the harvest starts in late February. Leave them in the fields too long under the hot California sun and the artichokes turn into inedible flowers. This intel comes from McKay Smith, who sells artichokes at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market from March until May.

Laura Avery also talks with Tony Esnault this week at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market. He's the chef and owner at Church & State in LA's Arts District and at the newly opened Spring restaurant Downtown. Esnault says the Smith Farms purple thornless artichokes are one of the best deals at the market now. While many fans of artichokes boil or steam them, in France's Loire Valley where Esnault grew up, artichokes are eaten raw with mustard vinaigrette. Find his recipe for Artichoke Barigoule on the Good Food blog.

Music: "Hearts Are Like Flowers" by Jacobites