When I was in France, I ate a lot of endive; those pale, tightly packed, candle flame shaped bundles of leaves available at every market. They were at their best when baked in the oven, next to the root vegetables. Amazingly, they stayed juicy and whole.
So, I read about how to grow them….. and did it. I sowed seeds of Belgian Endive last spring, let the plants grow all summer, then, in early winter I cut the tops off about an inch from the base, dug them up and put them side by side in a large pot, with barely damp soil. The soil was just to stop them falling over, but the methods I read about suggested sand. I think straw would also be fine, perhaps, although you don’t want them to dry out completely. They must be covered to make it dark, the story goes.
|Dug up, with the outside leaves removed|
|Trans-planted to a large pot with a lid to keep out the light||Now here they are, ready to cook, about a month or so later.|
Mine did what they were meant to, although they did not grow as big as those I bought (but never grew) in France (I understand they are grown hydroponically there these days.) Successful and delicious, never the less. However, since then, I have had a chance encounter with some more information, which sheds light on the life of chicory, in general.
Monty Don’s book about his own garden, Longmeadow, is such a delight to read that I find myself opening it up and reading a page at every opportunity. I came across this, the first sentence under “Chicory”…… I like the way that chicory has two distinct phases of growth….Ohhhh, why do other books not point this out??
Part one of their cycle is to establish a deep tap root and they will sprout lots of green leaves towards that end. But these leaves are impossibly bitter and tough. Not appetising. However, that is not their role. They serve to feed the taproot and supply the gardener with composting material during autumn …..what is then left, in late autumn is stage two, the harvestable plant, which responds to temperature and light levels to change leaf shape and sometimes colour.
Then he goes on to say that the British traditionally just grew witlof chicory (and the French, endive), which requires blanching in the dark (as I have just done). But radicchio (Italian for chicory) in all its assorted glory is adored by the Italians who grow it with great care and expertise. He goes on to mention “Rossa di Verona” (slightly speckled and cabbage shaped) and “Rossa di Treviso” (cos lettuce shaped, with curling leaves that have clear white ribs and perfectly good raw, or cooked). These two just happen to be some that I am growing for the first time, (see photos above) never ceasing to be amazed at the transformation from bitter and green, to brilliant red, totally different in shape and beautiful to eat! Now I understand why!!
Wait, there’s more…..The winter leaves can be cut flush with the soil and will regrow to provide 3 or 4 crops before spring. So, it being late winter here now, I had better do this today, or they will go to seed before I get a second harvest. In fact, I am going to cut some now and take some photos….. breakfast will have to wait!
And while I was there I took some more photos of my garden….
|A runaway chard, all alone…|