Chicory, Witloof Chicory, French Endive

By The Old House Web

Chicory, Witloof Chicory, French Endive

Witloof chicory is probably our most aristocratic and costly salad green. It used to be available only during the cooler months, but now that it is flown in via jet, it is available year-round. However, it is more costly and not quite as fine in quality during the summer months. Nearly all the Belgian endive sold in the United States is grown in Belgium. An insignificant amount is imported form Chile during the summer months, but very little, if any, Belgian- type endive is grown domestically. During World War II some was grown in Michigan, but the product was below par and was discontinued at the end of the war.

When purchasing Belgian endive, look for firm, plump, crisp, unblemished, pure white heads that have yellow leaf tips. If those tips are green rather than the desired yellow, the endive isn't fresh and will taste very bitter. The short, fat heads are preferable to those that are long and thin.

The main use for this plant is forcing the roots to get the leaves but the roots are sometimes dried, ground, and added to coffee. The plant tolerates most soil types. Sow seed in early August then thin seedlings to 8 inch spacings in rows 2 feet apart. If the seed is sown too early the roots get too large. Roots 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter and only one central bud are best. Large roots form other buds giving loose and branched heads. Plant seed 110 to 130 days before the first frost and keep plants growing rapidly. More secondary buds form on roots when the growing conditions are poor. Dig the roots before the ground freezes. The roots need exposure to cold temperatures to be forced. Store the roots in sand in a cool place. Force roots in a box of sand or sandy soil. Plant all the crowns at the same level to facilitate harvesting. Cover the roots with 6 inches of soil. Keep the soil moist and put the box in a warm cellar at 60 degrees. Three to 5 weeks are needed for forcing.

Harvest the heads when 6 inches long and leaves are creamy yellow with white veins. Separate the leaves when the head is used.

Roots grown with low nutrients or frozen and thawed to many times fail to force properly.

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