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Chicory - Chicorium intybus

Chicory is an unusual plant in that, although it has been cultivated for over 1,000 years, it is still very wild-looking and shows but slight effects of its association with man. Chicory is a native of Europe but is as common as a weed in the United States.

Chicory is a hardy vegetable that is used in three basic forms. The roots are dried, roasted, and prepared as a coffee substitute or coffee blend. The slightly bitter, curled dandelion-like greens (called Italian dandelion) are grown and used as potherbs. Witloof chicory (also called French endive) is forced as a blanched, tender, fresh salad delicacy. It is sold in some produce markets at high prices.


Varieties

Catalogna/Cut Leaf Type:

- Catalogna Special - 40 days to maturity. Italian dandelion. Can be harvested "baby size" 3 or 4 weeks after transplanting, or left to grow into heavy tall bunches. Long, deep green, slender, deeply cut leave.

- Magdefurgh - 100 days to maturity. Italian dandelion. Medium green tender dandelion-like foliage. Excellent for Italian salads or leaves can be cooked like Spinach. Roots are tapered and white. Dried ground up roots can be used as a coffee substitute.

- San Pasquale - 70 days to maturity. Broader, more deeply cut leaves than Italian Dandelion. Large, yield more deeply cut leaves.

Forcing:

- Toner - 130 days to maturity. Highest quality chicons, least fussy variety for home production. Intended for fall harvest and forcing October to March.

- Witloof Improved(French Endive) - 110 days to maturity. May be used for commercial forcing in home gardens. Leaf stalks are broad, heads are very uniform.

-Turbo Hybrid - 110 days to maturity. Biennial. Produces a refined chicon for European restaurant sales. Slender well finished uniform heads tolerant to brown axes.

Radicchio:

- Giulio - 60 days to maturity. For spring planting. Compact plant with brilliant garnet colored, white ribbed head. Resistant to bolting.

- Adria - 75 days to maturity. Crimson heads, white veins, 60% marketable heads. Plant seeds 1/2 inch deep (12 to 15 seeds per foot of row). Allow 18 to 24 inches between rows. When the seedlings are 2 to 3 inches high, thin them to 9 to 12 inches apart for chicory roots and greens and 3 to 4 inches apart for Witloof. Plant in May for greens and roots and about 120 days before frost for production of roots for forcing.

- Greens - Young, tender leaves can be harvested for greens in 60 to 70 days when they are 6 to 8 inches long. Chicory may also be blanched by tying the outermost leaves in the same manner as endive and escarole.

- Chicory Root - Chicory root is grown as a long-season annual. Most commercial production is in Michigan, but chicory root is easily grown under Arkansas conditions. Dig roots in the late fall before they are frozen in the garden. The roots will be 5 to 7 inches in diameter at the crown and tapered into a taproot. The usable root will be 9 to 10 inches long. The roots are scrubbed to remove garden soil, cubed, and roasted for grinding.


Forcing Chicory

Do not plant seeds too early for forcing roots. The roots may grow too large or develop flower stalks, making them unsuitable for forcing. Roots with a diameter of 1 to 1 3/4 inches at the crown are preferred for forcing. When the weather becomes cold, dig the roots and cut off the tops about 2 inches above the crown (top of root). Store the roots in a cool place with high moisture such as an outdoor vegetable pit or underground cellar.

During the winter and early spring, roots can be prepared in a new forcing box every two to three weeks for a continuous supply. Most gardeners put their forcing boxes in the basement because lack of light does not affect the quality of the Witloof heads. Some gardeners use cold frames or hotbeds or force in a trench in the garden. A sheet of clear or black polyethylene film should be placed over the trench to increase soil temperature.

Cut off the slender tips so that the roots are a uniform length (6 to 8 inches) and place the roots close together in a box or other container. Fill with sand or fine soil sifted in between the roots up to the tops of the crowns. Add 6 to 8 inches of sand or sawdust over the crowns.The blanched tops will grow into compact, pointed heads. The proper temperature for forcing is between 60 and 70 degrees F. Water thoroughly after preparing the forcing box. One or two additional waterings may be necessary. Forcing requires three to four weeks to develop firm heads.

When the heads break the surface, remove the sand or sawdust. Cut off the head with a knife at the point of attachment with the root. Prepare heads for the kitchen by removing dirty and loose outer leaves. Store the excess in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.Chicory heads will keep for two to four weeks.


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This page was last updated on November 16, 2002