Chicory is a bitter-tasting, leafy vegetable. There are three different types: ‘forcing’ chicory, red chicory or radicchio and ‘non-forcing’ chicory. To force chicory you need a ‘forcing’ chicory, such as ‘Witloof’.
To produce pale, crisp heads of tightly packed leaves, chicory needs to be forced into growth with the light excluded. This will also prevent them from tasting bitter.
Forcing can be done in situ in the garden in early spring, but for winter harvests, lift the plants in autumn and force them undercover.
Here’s how to force chicory in autumn.
You Will Need
- Garden fork or spade
- A sharp knife
- Large pot
Use a garden fork or spade to lift the entire plant. Cut off the foliage to leave the main bud intact in the crown of leaves.
Remove excess roots and plant three of four crowns in a 25cm pot of fine soil or old compost. Water and allow to drain.
Stand pots in a cool, dark shed. When ready to force, bring them somewhere warmer and cover to shut out light. The ‘chicons’ are ready to harvest when they are 15cm high, after around a month.
A bitter taste
Chicory is a bitter-tasting vegetable, used as a winter crop and harvested to eat in autumn and early spring salads. Blanching the leaves before eating can help reduce this bitterness.