Native to the Mediterranean region of Europe, the artichoke was introduced to California by Spaniards in the nineteenth century. The plants thrive in the coastal areas above Monterey and eighty percent of the artichokes bought in the United States come from the small town of Castroville.
A relative of the sunflower, the artichoke would bloom into a large flower if left in the field. They grow year round, but are most plentiful from late winter to early spring.
Fun Fact: In 1949 Marilyn Monroe was Artichoke Queen at the Castroville Artichoke festival.
The artichoke can be a little intimidating as foods go, with a sharp thorn at the end of each petal, and many a tourist has avoided the plant because they were unsure how to eat it. Standard etiquette says you use your fingers to pull the leaves free from the plant one at a time, usually dipping the meaty end in a mayonnaise-based sauce, biting off just the tip and discarding most of the leaf. At the center is the heart. Be sure to scrape away all the fuzz, then finish it off.