Crisp and unique with a slightly bitter taste, endive (pronounced “on-deev”) has been cultivated for medicinal purposes since the ancients documented its use 5000 years ago. A member of the chicory family, it is referenced in the infamous Ebers Papyrus (1550, BCE), and praised in the writings of Horace, Ovid, Virgil, Galenus and Pliny. It was rediscovered in the mid-to-late nineteenth century inBelgium, and has since traveled toFrance (where it is referred to fondly as “White Gold”), andNorth America.
Naturally crisp and slightly bitter, endive continues to delight the palates of millions of people the world-over. Endive can be boiled, braised, put in coffee or served fresh in salads.
For the last 29 years, California Vegetable Specialties, a production pioneer and marketing leader providing endive to wholesale, foodservice and retail clients world-wide, has been North America’s largest producer of both California Pearl and Belle Rouge endive.
A very specific, two-pronged process, the cultivation of endive begins in the spring, when selected ground is specially prepared for the sewing of hybrid European chicory seeds using a numatic planter. These tiny seeds are picked up by a rotating disk and dropped at a preset density along the length of the row. Four to six days after sewing, these seeds sprout tender young chicory plants.
Between four and five months later, the mature chicory plants—which resemble small sugar beet plants—are ready to harvest. By this time, you can visibly see the difference in leaf color between California Pearl (white) and Belle Rouge (red) endive. Belle Rouge is a cross with Italian chicory known as traviso.
First, the plant leaves are mowed down and left in the field. The objective here is to harvest good quality roots without any growing buds left intact. Then, a large, specifically engineered harvester digs the chopped chicory roots at about six inches in depth and shakes them clean of most of the dirt. These roots are placed into trucks and taken to a centralized handling area where they are dumped onto a large receiving belt. As the roots pass over this belt, they are cleaned of any excess soil. They are then placed into bins and subsequent transport to cold storage. At this point, the first stage of endive-production is complete.
Cold storage induces the roots into an artificial winter-like dormancy where they will remain for up to ten months. Throughout the year, these roots are removed from cold storage and dumped onto conveyer belts to be planted vertically in stackable, plastic-lined forcing trays.
Filled trays are then transported into a forcing room. This is where the second stage of endive’s production process begins. Dark and saturated in humidity, these forcing rooms are of mild temperatures and have good air circulation. It is the complete darkness that gives endive its unique blanched appearance.
It is in these forcing rooms that the process takes on hydroponics, as the chicory roots are allowed to grow with the aid of a special fertilizer solution. Computerized electronic monitors control banks of small injection pumps that continually feed very precise quantities of specialized plant nutrients into the constantly re-circulating growing solution.
It is in this way that CVS melds innovative technology with the ever-present watchful eye and intuition of skilled farmers.
While in the forcing rooms, the chicory root begins to grow a bud and a system of feeder roots. For about four weeks, these buds will grow at a steady pace until they are ready for harvest. At that point, they will be removed from the forcing rooms and laboriously picked, trimmed and packaged. Delicately, workers snap off each and every endive, separating the prized vegetable from the chicory root. These workers trim off all short, misshapen and discolored leaves and discard any heads of insufficient quality altogether, ensuring that only the best endives are shipped out to clients.
While being packaged, each layer of endives is separated by sheets of wax paper, further ensuring the product’s quality. Here, both red and white endive is separated into different grades according to size: extra, standard and baby. Full boxes are strapped in pairs, palletized, and immediately placed in a cold, dry room prior to shipment where they will have a realistic shelf life of about two to three weeks.
Ever-focused on the virtues of this unique vegetable, California Vegetable Specialties would like to encourage you to incorporate fresh, braised, and boiled endive into your daily diet. Healthy and delicious, this sophisticated vegetable can be put into smoothies, used in salads or even made into a delicious desert.
For more information onCaliforniaendive, or for a list of delicious recipes, please visit:
15 Poppy House Road
Rio Vista, California 94571