The world of vegetables in which we take advantage of the leaf, is sometimes a little limited in our day to day. Lettuce, cabbages, spinach and four more. Today we are talking about another less known that we will not be able to find in markets in some places simply because its consumption is not common. Chicory, a rustic plant that we can get in the middle of winter.
CHICORY IS AN ASTERACEOUS
Saying this is almost like saying that chicory is a plant. There are more than 20,000 species of the Asteraceae family, also called composites. If you are still not sure what type of plants they are, generally the family is made up of those species whose inflorescences are formed by floral chapters (in the center) surrounded by bracts of different colors. That is to say, the “typical flower” , like the sunflower for example or the daisy. In the photo you can see examples of asteraceae flowers. The bluish (third flower of the second row) is the flower of Cichorium intybus .
MY GRANDFATHER HAD CHICORY FOR BREAKFAST
Many of us remember a few years ago when there was a substitute for coffee that some of our grandparents drank for breakfast. As children we thought it was due to tastes of the time until you realize that it is a simple and plain effect of the postwar period and subsequent dictatorship in which coffee was something difficult to get (from black market) because it was a tropical product that should be imported. The chicory root was roasted and infused just as it is done with coffee and could be used as a substitute. And not only in Spain. Throughout Europe in different historical moments, the shortage of coffee for whatever reason, drove the consumption of the dehydrated, roasted and ground root of Chicory in addition to other products such as roasted barley husk.
CHICORY TODAY …
Its consumption as a substitute for coffee has remained as something testimonial, purely anecdotal (in Spain). The complete and absolute availability of coffee has caused its almost disappearance, although if we make an effort to find it, we can find it even on the supermarket shelf. Online is easier. Here we have an example.
So far we have talked about its root, but the leaf is a vegetable that is less known and can also be eaten raw in a salad or cooked in the pot for 5-10 minutes. In Spain it does not enjoy a very popular consumption due to its characteristic bitter taste that does not delight palates in general. France and Italy use this plant more in their dishes. In any case, it is a very healthy vegetable and with a little dressing I am convinced that it can be found a good place on the menus. The one we are talking about is him
SPEAKING OF BITTERNESS … DO YOU LIKE ENDIVES?
Surely in the previous paragraph, when reading bitter, the most horrendous taste has come to mind, but ask yourself this question: do you like endives? If so, chicory has a similar bitterness, perhaps a little more accentuated but it is simply so that you can associate it. In fact… endive is a chicory! What a mess! They were! Wait … another bitter leafy vegetable that is highly prized in winter is endive … and it’s chicory too! In short, a whole world of chicory around us and without realizing it. Endive and endive are actually species obtained over generations from what is considered wild chicory ( Cichorium intybus ).
- Cichorium endivia L. var. crispum (Curly endive or commonly endive)
- Cichorium endivia L. var. latifolium (Endivia)
- Cichorium intybus (what is known as chicory and which we talk about in this post)
Of course, you have to find where they sell it because in Gardenprue we have looked around and we have not been able to find it. So … we will consider cultivating it and for that … we will have to study its edaphoclimatic conditions, right? Let’s see them. If you want chicory seeds for your garden you can find them here.
WHAT NEEDS DOES THE CHICORY CROP HAVE?
TEMPERATURES AND LIGHT
Surprisingly rustic . And it is not uncommon, since many of the Cichoriums achieve their greatest splendor and especially culinary quality in winter (remember when is the best time for endive if you usually buy it). It supports up to -10ºC and is perfect for winter cultivation, a season in which many times we leave the orchard resting because we think that with such a hostile climate no horticultural plant can endure. Here is an exception.
As it is a winter period with rather “cool” temperatures, you will not suffer from hot flashes or leaf burns from excessive radiation or things like that, so full exposure to sunlight is normal. However, it can grow in semi-shadow areas.
SOIL AND IRRIGATION
It is also good for us in the winter season since too fertilized soils deform the roots. If the leaf is our main objective, we will not have too many problems in this aspect since it is not very demanding on the soil. Going from the nutritional to the purely structural part of the soil, adequate drainage and loose soil must be maintained with very normal pHs around 6 with slight variations. If we are going to cultivate it during the winter, we can work the soil a little to lift it up and aerate it and not fertilize the area where we are going to plant it if we already start with a more or less decent soil (a small family garden is normally quite fertilized with mulch, manures etc).
SOWING, HARVESTING AND BLANCHING
Leaf bleaching is important in any type of Cichorium species that we want to grow. They are bitter, and the bleaching mitigates this bitterness, giving us a more pleasant taste and even somewhat sweetish depending on the varieties. It can be sown during the summer (June-August) to have the leaves ready in the winter months. Bleaching is usually done by bagging the leaves and protecting them from sunlight for 3-4 weeks before harvest.
PESTS AND DISEASES … SOME BUT HAD TO HAVE …
They suffer from lettuce and endive- like disorders . Aphid in its early stages, powdery mildew, sclerotinia, Phytophtora spp. , flies, thrips.
Mainly the leaves will suffer the attacks of snails , slugs and caterpillars, especially the young shoots. We already know what remedies we have in the garden for some of these visitors, right?
Leaf rot due to cryptogamic diseases due to excessive humidity can also be a weak point of chicory so they must be airy and fresh until bleaching.