Sunday, May 22, 2011

Belgian Endive for spring salads

I'm not sure why more people don't grow Belgian Endive (also known as Wiltloof Chicory in the seed catalogues).  It's an undemanding plant that is harvested first thing in the spring when nothing else is even close to being ready to eat.  I've been growing it for many years.  Maybe people object to it because it's a one-year crop; I just planted seed for next year's harvest today, about a week after starting this season's harvest.

an endive shoot showing above the soil
To grow Belgian Endive, pick a spot that won't need to be disturbed until next spring.  Plant the seeds directly in the garden whenever it's convenient; timing isn't critical.  The emerging seedlings look a lot like lettuce but soon grow to be like a very big dandelion--not surprising, since the two plants are related.  The only care they need is thinning to 8" and a bit of weeding till they get going.

In the fall, cut the plants back to ground level.  Then cover them with about 10" of soil.  Sand is even better, since it's heavier, but that is 'way too much work for me!  What I do is shovel dirt from an adjacent area on top of the endive.

the exposed endive
In the spring, when you see the tips of the plants pushing through the soil surface, dig them out.  Shovel the dirt back where it came from.  Eat the tops like lettuce and roast the roots to make a brewed drink.  (This is the chicory that's added to coffee commercially.)

For my spring salad today, I used endive as a main ingredient, then added leaves from anise-hyssop, lemon balm, comfrey, dandelion (also flower buds), parsley, chive, and lovage.  I sprinkled johnny-jump-ups on top.  Yum!

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