Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: Belgian endive

May 9, 2008

I took this picture at the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Conference in New Orleans where the California Endive Growers were teaching food pros about this elegantly shaped, bitter lettuce. I was surprised to hear several people at the conference say that they grow their own Belgian endive. I always assumed it was a difficult veggie to grow and even now that I’ve heard more, the process seems complicated. But, folks who have done it seem to think that growing Belgian endive is well worth the effort.

If you’d like to give growing endive a try, you’ll need some instruction. Here’s an excerpt from Prairie Yard and Garden that describes it well:

“Belgium endive is a form of chicory that is intended for forcing in darkness, to produce a tight white, non-bitter head. Used in specialty salads or gently steamed as a vegetable, endive is a pricey vegetable to buy, but an easy one to grow.

First, be sure to obtain seed of witloof chicory. Sow the seeds in the spring in loose, fertile soil. After the seedlings are established, thin them to four to six inches apart and let the plants grow until fall. Keep them moist and fertilize once or twice during the growing season.

By fall, the plants will be large with strap-like leaves and thick white roots. Before the soil freezes, dig up the plants keeping those with roots at least one inch in diameter. Remove the small side roots and shorten the main root to 8 inches. Cut the foliage one inch above the crown. Store the roots in a cool place inside a box of peat moss until you are ready to force them.

For forcing, select a large pot – a black pot or a two gallon nursery pot works well. Place the roots vertically in the pot and fill with sand or potting soil to the point where the leaves emerge from the crown and water well. Next, take a second pot, seal the drainage holes on the bottom to exclude light, and place it over the plant crowns. Keep the pots where the temperature is between 55 and 65 degrees.

The pale compact chicons will be ready to harvest in three or four weeks. They can be either cut whole or a few leaves at a time. Often the harvested crowns will sprout again yielding a smaller chicon.”

Or, for the visual learners in the crowd, check out these fab pics of the process at Kitchengardeners.org.