Familiar in association with coffee, chicory is not so well known in this country as a salad or vegetable; but those who are familiar with it hold in esteem the blanched produce from roots lifted from the open and induced to grow in complete darkness in winter.
The common or small-rooted French variety (Barbe dc Capucin) is specially useful for filling the salad gap of the year when lettuce and endive (the latter is a close relative) are not available.
The variety Witloof (Brussels chicory), when the roots are winter grown indoors, produces 9-in. long, tight-packed heads of thick stems and leaves, which can be used like sea kale.
An eighth of an ounce of seed will sow a 30-ft. row.
Average time to germinate is about ten days.
Chicory is ready for use autumn to spring, according to treatment.
Any well-cultivated soil suffices, but the deeper it is the better; light ground is preferable to heavy.
When and How to Sow.
Space out the seed thinly in a drill J- in. deep, drills to be 1 ft. apart if more than one is required, in May. Water the ground first, if dry.
Thinning Out, Transplanting.
Seedlings when 2 in. high to be thinned out about 6 in. apart in the case of the common variety; those of the Witloof variety to stand 9 in. apart. Surplus seedlings, if trowelled up carefully, can be transplanted to extend the row.
Blanching for Winter.
Leaves of the common or French variety can be picked green for salad purposes as they become large enough; but the chief use of this and the Witloof is in winter. Roots should be lifted in autumn, a few at a time as required; those of the common’ variety will be about 1 in. in diameter, whilst the best of the Witloof will be twice as thick. These are planted (top growth cut off to within I in. of the root’s crown) 2 in. or so apart in light soil in a deep box, the top of each root level with the soil surface.
The box is to be placed in a completely dark cellar or shed, or under the greenhouse bench; in the latter position all light must be excluded, by sacking hung up around the box. Lacking a deep box, the roots will do just as well planted in a heap of light soil – which must be kept moist (but not muddy); darkness is essential.
Crisp, well-flavoured, white leaves are quickly produced; leaf growth is brisker if a temperature of about 55 degrees can be commanded.
Leaves of the common or French variety may be gathered when between 3 in. and 6 in. long. Blanched tops of the Witloof are not cut until about 9 in. high. If heat is used in this winter production the roots will not be worth planting outdoors again.
Preparing for Table.
Wash leaves and stems in cold water before using as raw salad or for cooking as a kitchen vegetable.