The garden is a luscious salad bar this time of year until the real cold and snow hits which could be any time now. We are gathering cold hardy lettuce, kale, cabbage, fennel, coriander, kale, asian greens like mustards and bok choi, kale, arugula, the first corn salad/mache,* herbs, onions, more kale, bietina (particularly hardy chard in my experience) and chicories like radicchio.
Beautiful heading raddichio. I sprinkled handfuls of a collection of old seed beneath the apple trees last fall so I couldn't tell you the exact variety but it was tasty!
In fact, I debated calling this post for the love of chicory. Even the deer have expressed their appreciation by nibbling off the tops of some beautiful red heads revealing their mottled interiors. At least they left the roots to grow again next year. It wasn't until I started growing them that I learned to appreciate their pleasingly bitter taste from the deceptively named sugarloaf to the deep reds of classic radicchio to the buttery yellow of forced Belgium endive.
What's not to love? They are perennials.** In their first year, all going well, they produce heads that can be as lovely as flowers in the fall garden. In their second year, they produce a tower of sky blue flowers rather like the wild chicories that you may see along the roadway and like those wild flowers, they will happily seed themselves nearby the mother plants. These self sown seedlings along with those I've started in situ in the fall, have produced some of the most beautiful first year heads. Subsequent years will produce more greens and roots.
At my old place, sugarloaf chicory often made its way into the yawn. It's easy to remove but I often left it, getting a kick out of the contrasting giant apple green leaves. Cutting back the flowerheads prevents this or just aim them in a more appropriate direction.
You can eat the outer leaves but they are quite bitter or wait for cool temperatures to increase their sugar content. Digging up and storing the roots in the cellar will provide you with a winter feast of chicons - forced heads - at a time of year when fresh vegetables are thin on the ground. If you can't wait, then you can blanch the inner growing leaves by upturning a bowl or pot on them. This works for dandelions too.
Though they make a lovely base or complement for a salad, my favourite use is in pasta dishes. Fried lightly with onion, with or without other vegetables, then layered in a cheesy lasagna is delicious. The bitterness is transformed into depth. If you enjoy the way they cut sweet, then stir fry or grilling is also a nice option. Or layer raw on some fresh fall apples atop a shredded head of sugarloaf and a sprinkle of grated cheese.
This picture is taken later in the fall than the previous and you can see the deepening of colour in the heads.
Even my children will eat it though not on the plate. There is something about that circular eating zone that changes vegetables from tasty trail snack to dreaded barrier against leaving the table. The other day, my youngest was cutting up a sugarloaf with the odd leaf making its way into her mouth. I said, "You like chicory!" She smiled and replied "no" while continuing to chew.
* My corn salad is off to a slow start at the new place. I know that once it starts to self seed, I'll be in the corn salads for years but I sure do miss its mild flavour now. If you have a cold frame/polytunnel, you can harvest it almost all year too! The exception is probably after its seeded in summer along with days that your door is frozen shut. Otherwise, it's extremely cold hardy.
** I've also heard short-lived perennial. It may be but as I always have youngsters taking over from their flagging parents, I haven't noticed.
There are all kinds of chicory from loose leaf to ones with thick stems to those with tight conical or more pointed heads. Berton Seeds will give you a sense of their diversity.
!!Happy b-day to my baby gardeners who are 6 and 8 today!!