My California sweetheart farmer, Rich Collins, came through once again this year with a Valentine’s bouquet of Belgian endive. So I put off harvesting any of my own chicons until yesterday.
This is how my chicory plants looked in the garden last summer (remember, what we call Belgian endive is actually chicory). The leaves, though edible, were ferociously bitter. I left them alone, thus ensuring that the plants would have the energy to form big roots.
In December I dug up the roots. Here they are at harvest.
I found a plastic box, 13 inches deep and cracked on the bottom, which seemed a perfect planting container; nobody would mind my filling the box with dirt, and the roots would have drainage, if needed, without my damaging the box further. Lacking either sand or light soil as a planting medium, I used some commercial potting mix that I had on hand. I trimmed off the bottoms of the roots so that the tops would be covered with at least an inch of the moistened potting mix. Now I needed to bury the roots further in a light material like sawdust or leaf mold, or more planting mix, but I had already filled the box to the top. So I piled some wheat straw over the roots, inverted another plastic box on top, and secured it with a couple of half-bricks.
Except for occasional peeks, I left the roots alone. Our cat Daphne, however, did not. While we were on vacation in late February she managed to knock off the bricks and the top box, leaving the chicons barely covered with straw for as long as six days. When we came home I covered them again—until yesterday, when this is what I found. The biggest chicons, I saw, had grown on the biggest roots. Some of the heads are a bit greener and more open than they should be, because of Daphne’s transgression, or the transparency of the bottom box, or my failure to bury the roots deep enough, or a combination of these possibilities. But no matter—most of the heads are firmly closed, and even the green leaves have hardly any bitterness.
If you’re in the United States and want to grow Belgian endive, you can buy the seeds from Nichols. For tips on preparing Belgian endive for the table, see my piece from last year, “Playing with Belgian Endive.”