Buy bright green artichokes with tightly closed leaves that feel heavy in your palm. When artichokes have withered leaves and brown stems they are old and not worth the expense. If you live somewhere (probably California) where small young artichoke buds, still painted with violet, are sold by the bag, don't miss the opportunity to try the Provençal method of stewing them in oil.
To clean artichokes, run water into any opened leaves. Cut a lemon in half. With a large chef's knife, cut the stem off at the base so that the artichoke can sit level on a plate. Immediately rub the cut bottom with the lemon to keep it from browning. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, squeeze in the juice of a lemon, and boil the artichokes for about 25 minutes. When done, put them to drain upside down in a colander for a few minutes. Serve hot with melted butter or hollandaise, chilled or at room temperature with a sharp vinaigrette. Serving artichokes provides a good opportunity for New Orleanians to pull out their grandmother's finger bowls.