Edible flowers — when people hear these words they think of sweet delicate flowers on top of wedding and anniversary cakes.

The majority of the population would not think of Thursday night Farmers’ Market and McLintocks’ grilled artichokes when they hear the term edible flowers. However, as a cousin to the sunflower, this green armored delectable is an edible flower whose beauty is much more than skin-deep.

As many an artichoke consumer would agree, the best part of this flower is not its overall appearance, but its divine heart hidden within.

Although this plant is perennial, like apples, it still has prime growing seasons in which its flavor and abundance are more readably accessible. The peak season for the globe artichoke is from March until May, along with a smaller crop in October — relevant to the current season.

The best part of this in-season food is its fresh accessibility to California residents. California provides close to 100 percent of the United States’ entire artichoke crop.

Artichokes really began to bloom when they reached Monterey County — Castroville in particular. Castroville claims the lofty title of “The Artichoke Capitol of the World.” The annual Castroville Artichoke Festival announced the beautiful Marilyn Monroe as the Artichoke Queen in 1948, and the artichoke continued as one of the valley’s top five cash crops, now with a pretty face attached to add a little outer beauty to this thistly flower.

Let’s get to picking and eating the perfect artichoke. When picking an artichoke look for a consistent deep green throughout the entire flower. Avoid any dark brown spots or faded color as it is an indication the plant is past its prime.

Which to choose, a baby artichoke or a fully developed one? That is a trick question; both baby artichokes as well as the larger artichokes are fully developed. The two only differ in size based on which part of the plant they are picked from. Baby artichokes are picked from the base of the plant stalk and thus have been sheltered more and do not reach the same size as the chokes higher on the stalk. Nonetheless, they pack just as much flavor and nutrients as its larger siblings.

For the best flavor and texture it is important to consume artichokes within four days of purchasing them, or as close to when they were picked as possible.

Cooking artichokes tends to be a little tricky — one must understand the value of patience. With conventional cooking of the artichoke, such as steaming and boiling, it tends to take 25-40 minutes depending on the size of the artichoke — this is when those baby ‘chokes gain appeal with shorter cooking times. However, with the easy to use and college friendly microwave you can reduce this cooking time to less than 10 minutes. What a relief!

Before cooking the artichoke use kitchen scissors — or if you are anything like me, use regular scissors you deemed worthy of the title kitchen scissors — and cut away the sharp tips of the leaves. Eating the artichoke — as a messy eater myself, I am glad to say — is a hands-on affair in which all parties involved get their hands a little dirty.

The condiment to accompany a freshly prepared artichoke is a highly debatable topic. Those from the East Coast tend to enjoy dipping into melted butter, while those from the West Coast prefer a rich mayonnaise or aioli. Which do you side with? During this quick preview season in October why not try for yourself or even invent a new dip to accompany each bite?

CLUE: This food can be grown on every continent except Antarctica, but Morton, Illinois is the self-proclaimed “_______ Capitol of the World.”

CREAMY THAI DIP
¼ cup creamy peanut butter
¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
Combine all ingredients; mix well. Makes ¾ cup.

HERBED MAYONNAISE
1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon each chopped parsley and chives (or green onions, green part only)
¼ teaspoon chopped tarragon
Mix all ingredients well.

HONEY MUSTARD DIP
¼ cup prepared mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
Combine all ingredients; mix well. Makes about 3/4 cup.

Heather Rockwood is a food sciences junior and the Mustang Daily food columnist.

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