Unusual Vegetable Plants



Describing Chicory one might liken it to a cross between a lettuce and a cabbage. It is used in salads, but it has thicker leaves than a normal lettuce, can be slightly bitter depending how well it has been looked after and some people prefer it served as a hot vegetable after being lightly blanched in boiling water.

Basically there are two types of Chicory - forcing and non forcing.

Non forcing varieties are simply grown in a similar way to lettuce and many are very hardy for cropping nearly all year round. An attractive red variety called Raddichio is one of the more popular.

The traditional Witloof variety is for forcing and produces a tight, white cone of leaves that grown properly are not bitter. Forcing Chicory is a means of producing tasty leaves in the coldest depths of Winter when little else is growing. The process starts in the Spring by sowing seed as with any other vegetable and growing them on until late autumn. When the tops are well developed they can be cut off, down to about 1 or 2 inches above the thick base. Then the roots are dug up and stored frost-free and in a dryish state as you might store a Dahlia tuber until they are wanted for forcing. (Plants may need a little Autumn protection from the cold to get them up to size if there are early frosts.)

To force the plants they need to be re-planted with 3-5 roots potted in shallow compost in the bottom of a large pot with the top of the pot covered over with another upturned pot to keep out the light. This process of “Blanching,” the plants by keeping out the light is similar to the that done to “Force,” early Rhubarb and used to be done with Celery to prevent that from being bitter as well before new strains were developed. The growing Chicory plants must be kept frost-free over their winter growing and harvesting period with suitable places for them to grow being a garage, cellar, or under the staging in a greenhouse. Over a few weeks the cut roots will produce new conical top growth, or “Chicons,” that can be harvested when they are about 6 inches high. If a clean cut is made you might get secondary smaller “Chicons,” but if not the plant may rot. “Chicons,” should be used a.s.a.p. after cutting as their quality will deteriorate rapidly and if left in the light they will go bitter, so they should be stored in a black plastic bag in the fridge. Chicons can also be quickly boiled in salted water, or “blanched,” and served hot with a light sauce.

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