My family has been growing and eating chicory for years.
Some of the many kinds
The first variety I grew may have been ‘Italiko rosso’, a loose-leaf type with red leaf-veins running through its dark green leaves. Others have been ‘Pan di zucchero’, a less bitter variety that makes a head like Romaine lettuces, and ‘Catalogna’, an all-green loose-leaf type. Including chicory in our meals turns out to have been good practice for traveling in Italy, because at restaurants we visited, the cooked greens served with the second course of a meal often were chicory, not spinach.
Radicchio, a heading-plant that is usually red instead of green, is also a kind of chicory. Endive and escarole are other forms of chicory that are familiar in the U.S.
These are all good to think about right now because they are cool-season crops that we can plant in our fall gardens. In general, the loose-leaf forms mature in 45-55 days, and so do most of the radicchios. Those can be planted in my area (zone 7b, with a first frost around Nov. 1) in a couple of weeks.
The heading type ‘Pan di zucchero’ takes 80 or more days to mature — it should already be coming up in the gardens of anyone nearby who wanted to grow it. Gardeners south of Atlanta, with later frost dates, still have time to get that variety started.
All of the above chicories are grown for their leaves, which are a lot less bitter in fall/winter/spring than in summer.
Chicory in the kitchen
I haven’t served chicory as a pile of cooked greens, Italian-style, at home, even when they haven’t been bitter. I am not a huge fan of cooked greens. Instead, I usually add raw leaves to a salad or to soups or sauces, where they end up cooked.
If I were going to cook chicory as a “mess of greens”, I would drop them into boiling water, let cook for about half a minute, drain off the water, then finish cooking in fresh water, just like for any other potentially-bitter green (collards, mustards). When we cook greens this way (because Joe does like greens), much of the bitterness goes down the drain with the water that we pour off.
The chicory in my garden right now
This year, I planted seeds for ‘Magdeburg’ chicory, a variety that has a bigger, tastier root for making chicory coffee.
The seeds went into the garden a few weeks before we left town, but the seedlings were not big enough for me to mulch their patch before we left for the summer. When we got back, the patch was a weedy mess. Among the weeds, though, were some chicory plants.
I weeded as carefully as I could but ended up pulling some chicory plants with the weeds in spite of the care. A few days later, yard-bunnies found the patch and nibbled it nearly to the ground. Wild yard-bunnies can be hard on a garden.
Deciding what to do about wildlife damage is not easy. There are many options for “pest control”, most of which don’t work. In the end, I poked some sticks into the ground near each plant, thinking that the sticks would be an annoyance for the bunnies.
As the plants regrew, the bunnies returned. Last week, I added a lot more sticks to the bunny-blockade. The more-crowded assemblage of sticks looks strange, but it seems to be working.
If all else fails and the bunnies are undeterred, I may be able to find a patch of wild chicory to use in making coffee. The bright blue flowers are easy to spot. The hard part will be finding a patch in an unpolluted place (not by a road, for example), where I can get permission to harvest the roots.