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Here's how to get the finest flavor from this tricky-to-grow green.

Endive in the grocery store-- dark-green tough, and sometimes harshly bitter--is an easy edible to pass up. Endive from the garden, however, is a different story.

Its savory leaves spice salads, soups, stuffings and other dishes with a pleasantly bitter taste--not the kind that makes your mouth shrivel in disgust. When properly grown, endive has a delicious, piquant, full flavor.

There are two types of endive: curly and broad-leaved. The curly types generally are called frisée (pronounced free-zay, it is French for "curly"). The broad, lettuce-like leaved varieties are called escarole or, occasionally, scarole. `

Endive produces"heads" that fall somewhere between the compactness of iceberg lettuce and the openness of a looseleaf type. For the best flavor, mild days and cool nights are the ideal. But with a little bit of gardening expertise, endive will grow just about anywhere.

SOIL: Loose, well-drained, rich soil.

START: Start seeds for spring crop indoors and set out month-old seedlings three to four weeks before last frost. Use row covers for cold protection. Plant fall crops in late summer, at least three weeks after summer solstice (June 21) by direct seeding one~quarter- to one-half-inch ! deep; thin to 8 to 12 inches apart (closer for blanching). Seeds will germinate best when the soil temperature remains between 70° and 75° F; optimal growth will occur when daytime air temperatures are between 60° and 65° F. ~

WATER: Needs consistent supply for best flavor. Will be bitter when drought stressed; mulch to keep soil moist. ; ~

FERTILIZE: Work compost, cottonseed meal or manure into the soil before planting. Give seedlings a quick start with fish emulsion.

PESTS: Control aphids with insecticidal soap. Tie heads for blanching only when thoroughly dry.

Endive is often grown in fall, but the key to growing a good spring crop is to choose a slow-bolting variety and to provide protection from temperature swings.

I n Vermont and other areas where spring days can be cool, young plants may flower before they have a chance to mature. As ORGANIC GARDENING's contributing editor Shepherd Ogden explains, "All it takes to trigger bloom is about 10 days when the temperature doesn't rise above 50° F when the plants are in the four-to five-leaf stage." To protect against this, you can grow the plants in a cold frame or under row covers until the temperature warms. Long days also trigger bloom, and no endive will grow from spring through summer. Harvest young in warm weather for the best taste.

Blanching. Typically, the outer green leaves of endive are strong and bitter. The light-yellow to white inner leaves that are hidden from the sun taste the mildest. Most gardeners prefer varieties that shade themselves--or self-blanch--such as TRAVIATA, which has an upright, narrow shape.

Harvest even more blanched leaves per plant by crowding endive 6 to 8 inches apart so that plants stand shoulder to shoulder, shading each other as they grow. However, this crowded foliage remains wet long after dew or rain, and you must watch the plants diligently for signs of disease.

You can blanch heads without crowding by simply covering individual plants with a large clay pot (block the drainage hole) or bucket, or by tying up the outer leaves with a strip of cloth or wide rubber band as you would blanch cauliflower. Leaves must be absolutely dry when bunched, however, or you'll be inviting rot diseases.

Most heads will blanch in five to 10 days. When the endive is ready for harvest, simply pull the plant or cut it off at around level and enjoy the succulent inner leaves.

Curly endive varieties. The standard curly leaved endive is SALAD KING. It produces a large head (18 to 24 inches across) with big, frilly leaves and does well in both spring and fall throughout the country. This has been the standard market variety for years because its rugged leaves withstand the rigors of shipping.

For the home and local market, fancy European varieties with smaller, delicate leaves are becoming more popular. As organic farmer Steve Sprinkel of Chismahoo Farm, Carpinteria, Calif., explains, "Endive with big, green leaves, such as SALAD KING, is fine for cooking, like in white bean and endive soup. But for salads you want a delicate leaf and a white, blanched, succulent heart."

Varieties with finely cut leaves that fit Sprinkel's salad profile are FINE CURLED, FIN DES LOUVIERS, and TRÈS FIN MARAICHÈRE. The latter is especially suited for spring planting, as it is slower to bolt when spring days get longer and warmer. NINA, another fine-leaved European variety, also deserves a try in spring. Its small, elegant head is popular for serving whole.

Broad - leaved (escarole)The traditional escarole is a "full heart" variety such as FLORIDA FULL HEART. The plants are large and spreading, but produce a dense, blanched inner head, thus the name, "full heart." Similar varieties include "deep heart" and "Batavian," a name that identifies its European heritage.

Other popular escaroles include NUVOL (especially recommended for spring planting), a variety with a slightly smaller head and more crumpled leaves than full-heart types, and CORONET D'ANJOU, a very old variety popular with gardeners interested in historic crops. It looks more like iceberg lettuce than standard escarole.

Endive can vary widely in appearance, but anyone who has enjoyed a meal flavored by its crisp, pungent leaves has no doubts about why to grow it.

Endive or chicory? Or both?

Sometimes the word chicory is used to refer to all the plants in the genus Cichorium--the scientific name for the chicory tribe--to which endives belong. From a horticultural viewpoint, curly endive and broad-leaved endive (Cichorium Endivia) are more like lettuce. Yet, curly endive is sometimes called chicory and some chicories look like Butterhead lettuce. To add to the confusion, one of the true chicories (Cichorium Intybus), witloof, is sometimes called Belgian endive. Below are some common types of chicory:

· Belgian endive is a 4- to 6-inch long, torpedo-shaped, tight, leafy bud that sprouts in winter from the root of witloof chicory grown in summer. The sprout must grow in the dark to prevent greening and bitterness, so roots are dug from the garden in fall and brought into a cool basement for forcing. Direct seed a witloof type early this summer (or transplant using soil blocks). We'll tell you exactly what to do with the root to get this welcome winter vegetable in our fall gardening issue later this year.

· Root chicory, cultivated by American colonists, escaped into the countryside to brighten up roadsides with brilliant blue dandelion-like flowers in spring. It's the secret ingredient in famous French Market coffee served in New Orleans and of course, in many coffees in France. You can forage wild chicory root anytime after the plant stops flowering, but you'll get larger roots by growing a variety such as MACDEBURGH, available from William Dam Seeds.

To get chicory for drinking, scrub roots well and dry them in a warm attic or very low oven. Chop, then roast in a 300° F oven until crisp, about three hours. Grind until moderately coarse iron coffee grinder or grain mill. Brewed in a percolator, about one-half cup of ground chicory makes eight cups of beverage.

· Chicories grown for their young leaves are a necessary ingredient in mesclun, a traditional mix of greens grown in France, and in misticanza, its Italian counterpart. These mixes provide tasty cut-and-come-again, pretossed salads from early spring through fall. Combinations can include lettuce, chervil, arugula, endive, cress or mustard, but the Italian typically has more chicories, such as SPADONA, with smooth, lettuce-like leaves, or the Catalogna types that look like dandelion.

· Radicchio, a red, heading type prized for its color and pungent flavor, adds even more diversity to the chicories. Sown in early summer, plants are cut back around Labor Day. Small, cabbage-like heads Sprout and can be harvested through spring in areas with mild winters. Newer kinds, such as (GIUGLIO, were developed for spring planting and summer harvest without cutting back.

Copyright © 1991 Organic Gardening

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