Bring the water, bay leaves, salt, and peppercorns to a boil in a large pot.
With a small, sharp knife, trim the tough outer skin from the artichoke stems and remove the bottom row of leaves. Add the artichokes and lemons and return to a boil. Place 2 small, heavy plate on top of the artichokes, lower the heat, and cook at a low boil until the artichokes are tender, about 20 minutes. They are ready when you can pierce the bottom without resistance. Drain in a colander and let the artichokes sit until cool enough to handle.
Remove the large outer leaves from the artichokes and discard the spiky inner leaves. With a spoon, scrape the hairy choke from the hearts and discard. Set aside the hearts and reserve the leaves for another use.
Yield: 4 artichoke hearts