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. Using long handled tongs, carefully add the artichokes and lemons to the pot and return to a boil. Place 2 small heavy plates on top of the artichokes to keep them submerged, lower the heat, and cook at a low boil until the artichokes are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain in a colander and let the artichokes sit until cool enough to handle.
Pull off the large outer leaves from the artichokes, and discard or reserve for another use. Remove and discard the spiky inner leaves. Scrape the hairy choke from each heart and slice as needed or serve whole.
Yield: 4 hearts, or 4 servings