There is a reason why Belgian endive [on-DEEV] is so expensive in the stores. But odds are pretty good that you can grow your own.
Belgian endive, along with radicchio, escarole, curly endive, and sugarloaf, are all members of the chicory family. Chicory has a slightly more bitter taste that lettuce, but its nutty flavor adds a lot to salads and appetizers. I love to combine diced pear, feta cheese, some lemon juice and just a touch of olive oil, salt, and coriander and place dollops of the mixture into endive leaves. It's delicious! The harvestable head is called a chicon.
A manipulated chicory
If you have ever tried growing a plant in a room without enough sunlight, you have seen etiolation. Etiolation describes the way plants become leggy as they reach for inadequate sunlight. They tend to be pale and delicate. The whiteness of Belgian endive is achieved in a similar way by blanching.
Blanching is a method of growing in which seedlings are covered with soil or other materials. Belgian endive is grown commercially in dark rooms. Blanching prevents photosynthesis. The lack of chlorophyll in the leaves makes them white. It also gives them a more delicate flavor and tender texture. Blanching is also used on asparagus and celery. To grow your own Belgian endive, you need to learn a few tricks.
How to grow Belgian endive
Belgian endive is one of the few crops that is grown twice. First you grow the root and then you grow the head. If you simply put a Belgian endive seed in the ground and water it, you will get what looks like several other green chicory plants. In the case of Belgian endive, a seed is planted and allowed to grow normally. Then the top portion is removed, the root is refrigerated [vernalized] and then replanted, and grown in the dark. This “forces” the plant to believe it has gone through a winter and the head it produces is very tightly wrapped, pale, and tender.
To grow your own nutty, crunchy, slightly bitter winter greens, follow these steps:
Three to four weeks later, you will have your very own Belgian endive crop. Simply snap the head off and there you have it!
Problems associated with growing Belgian endive
If you plant seeds too early, bolting may occur. While that’s a great way to get seeds for next year, you won’t have any harvestable heads. And if too much nitrogen is present, your plants will focus on leafy growth rather than root development. And you need healthy roots to get harvestable heads.
Each root only produces one head, so the old root can be fed to your chickens or added to the compost pile.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!