In Toronto you can find artichokes almost all year round, but they are grown in Ontario only for late July to October. So where do artichokes come from the rest of the year? California is the biggest producer of artichokes in North America with approximately 40k tonnes produced, but those are small quantities compared to the 480k tonnes produced by Italy. So if you buy artichoke in Toronto in February they have most likely been imported from California.
Artichokes prices in North America are seasonal and their price is affected by simple supply and demand. In California artichokes productions peaks between March and Mid May when 70% of the artichokes are picked, though production goes on year round with the highest yield from fields in fall and spring.
Artichokes are flowers, so the plant produces multiple flowers every year, the best artichokes are produced in the spring since with the warm weather, buds become more fibrous and lose flavour.
From my research it looks like prices for artichoke on the Toronto market significantly reduced in 2012, it appears that the supply increased and prices dropped by almost 50%! Prices seem to be stable throughout the year in 2014 the lowest prices were between August and October, which makes sense since the local artichokes hit the market stalls around that time increasing the supply. A pound of artichokes at the wholesaler in 2014 cost you anything from $0.50 to $1.63, full summary can be found below.
Artichokes are a great menu item, they can be used as an appetizer deep fried, or can be use for pasta sauces and risottos. Based on my research I would place artichokes on the menu between August and November when local supply of Imperial star variety is available. If we are sourcing California artichokes from January to March is when we get the best artichokes on the Ontario market. The rest of the year artichokes are available but they probably arrive heat-stressed and tough. When costing the menu we have to remember that 60% of what we is turn into waste.
Where to buy Artichokes? Well of course the Ontario Food terminal is where it all starts, you can find Californian producers such as Ocean Mist Farm and Andy Boy Farms, big supermarkets stock the product from time to time, I get mine at Phil’s in St. Lawrence market. Between July and August you can try to get your hands on locally grown Imperial Start Artichokes variety from Top Tomatos Foods.
Finally how do you pick artichokes from a crate? Pick up the Artichokes and feel the weight. You’re looking for heavy and firm. In term of appearance you’re looking for Globes that have a healthy green color, compact center leaves and an overall look of freshness (not dehydrated).