Le freak, c’est chicon

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I blooming love chicory. Not so much the bitter red radiccio or even bitterer green leafy stuff beloved by the French and Italians, but those bitter-sweet crunchy white forced chicons that look more fungi than vegetable. There’s something so delicious about starting at the bitterer tip with its wings of yellow-green and then rewarding yourself with the sweetest most refreshing crunch at the bottom – as long as you don’t eat the base which is bitterer than that stuff you had to paint on your nails to stop yourself biting them. Or ear wax, but we won’t go into that.

We get through packets of chicory over winter, whether in salads with lumps of blue cheese, goat’s cheese or feta or with a sharp lemony dressing to go with pasta. But I’ve never grown it successfully – only once trying to force the de Treviso variety outside with a flower pot over it. It may have worked, but whatever shoots emerged, the slugs got too first, so harvest was nil.

In mid-summer this year I decided I’d give it a proper go, so took a load of fruit crates off the hands of our local greengrocers, filled them with regular peat free compost and sowed some forcing chicory – obviously I am not organised enough to have kept the seed packet but think it might have been Focus from Unwins. I put the crates in a shady spot and watered them when I remembered.

Despite the trays being woefully and probably inadequately shallow the plants have done OK and I’ve ended up with about 12 leafy plants that look a bit like a cross between a leggy cos lettuce and a dandelion. This morning I dug them up, cut the leaves back to an inch of the base and repotted 5 of them in a 30cm diameter terracotta pot that already has almost unused compost in it, thanks to a failed okra growing experiment this year (don’t bother). The roots were pleasingly chunky, like turnips. I replanted them at the original depth so the cut ends are sticking out. You can also use sand but I wouldn’t use any compost likely to have mould, algae or weed seeds in it.

I’ve bunged the pot in the shed and put another pot on top with a board over the drainage holes so it’s properly dark. Now I wait and see – the stumps (for want of a better word) are supposed to sprout the snow white chicons after about a month after which you can apparently snap them off for a second harvest.

I’ll post a photo of them in a month – will it be of plump, crunchy, pure white torpedoes or a pot of bare compost? Watch this space…

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