For day 3 of the 12 Days of Endive, let’s talk history!
Endive has a unique story—it’s a youngster in the vegetable world, which is ironic considering that the root it’s grown from, called chicory, is one of the earliest plants cited in recorded literature. Endive, on the other hand, was a relatively recent discovery, thanks to a lucky accident. In 1830, a farmer named Jan Lammers in Brussels, Belgium, stored some chicory roots in his cellar because he was planning to dry and roast them for coffee (it was commonly used as an additive or coffee substitute). But then he left his farm for several months to serve in the Belgian War of Independence, and when he returned he discovered that his chicory roots had sprouted small, white leaves that were tender, crunchy, and delicious. A Belgian botanist named Brézier then went on to refine cultivation to the point where it could be grown commercially. Markets in Brussels began carrying endive in 1846, and then in 1872 it was introduced in Paris and it became so popular that it was nicknamed “white gold.”
Today endive is grown all over the world, including in the United States. But in the US it is only grown here in California by California Vegetable Specialities, a company started by Richard Collins who caught the endive fever as a young man while working in a French restaurant in Sacramento. Who knew a little inconspicuous looking vegetable could have such an interesting history?