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Spring forward with berries and buds

March 14, 2007|Russ Parsons

Peak season

Strawberries: At last the strawberry fields seem to have shaken off the final traces of January's terrible freeze. Now they are back to what they do best: pumping out berries like there's no tomorrow. In fact, some growers say that this spring's crop is even better than usual after several weeks of rest. Choosing good strawberries is pretty simple: Your nose will know. Sniff around until you find a stand where the berries smell so good you can't resist. That's all there is to it, though you should also check the bottom of the basket to make sure the berries haven't gone over the hill and started leaking. You can refrigerate berries, but I think the flavor is best if you leave them at room temperature and eat them the same day. Wash them gently in cool running water, pat them dry and then hull them, removing the green top (removing it before washing causes the berries to absorb more water).

Various vendors, $3 per pint.

Baby artichokes: It takes a strong constitution to walk past those cute little baby artichokes without picking them up. Don't resist: They are one of the handiest vegetables around. The flavor is the same as the big artichokes, but the thorny bracts are more tender and because they are so small, there is very little bristly choke in the center. Like most other "baby" vegetables, artichokes aren't really immature; but unlike most others, they don't come from a specialized miniature variety. Instead, baby artichokes come from the very same plants that throw up the big hubcap-sized ones that are so good for steaming. Every artichoke plant produces a range of sizes -- one or two giants, half a dozen or so mediums and a dozen or so babies. Because most people still eat artichokes only one way -- steamed and dipped in butter -- these smaller sizes often go neglected and are terrific bargains. Trim the outer leaves and tips, but do leave the stems attached: They have the same tender texture and great flavor as the heart.

Various vendors, $2 per pound.

Russ Parson

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russ.parsons@latimes.com

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