to get an even root size. The seed is difficult to establish and the plants are prone to attack by aphids, particularly the peach potato aphid. The rows are hand-hoed twice at a cost of £247/ha (£100/acre), and the long, thin roots are lifted from late October to the end of November with a modified potato harvester. The bare roots are stored in boxes at a temperature of -1C.
One root produces one chicon and each week over the year following lifting, roots will be taken out of store, graded then hand set closely and upright into trays for growing on hydroponically.
"This system was developed here," says Julian, showing the rubber lined trays that are stacked six high and piped with water that will flow at a constant depth of 5cm (2in) round the roots for the 21 days it takes for the chicons to develop.
In the humid growing rooms, where 8-10t is produced each week, the waxy leaved chicory heads make an eerie sight.
"The ideal chicon weighs 100g as we are constrained by the supermarkets to produce 200g packs of two," says Julian. "Some chicons are larger so you will be giving that extra away. We supply all the big multiples, who retail the packs at between 60p and 90p, and wholesale markets. We even export some to Holland from where we occasionally import it, if our orders go up suddenly.
"The product doesnt keep, so if the market contracts the chicory has to be dumped. It is a crop of tight margins and a contracting market, and the number of British growers has reduced from three to one in the past five years."
Chicory roots are brought from the cold store, graded and closely packed into trays (below) and then grown on hydroponically (above) in the dark.
Chicory Waldorf salad
2 white chicory heads – chopped
100g (4oz) celery – chopped
• large apple – chopped
100g (4oz) walnuts
Salt, garlic, whole grain mustard,
Mix chicory, celery, apple and walnuts together. Add seasonings to the mayonnaise and mix all ingredients together thoroughly.
Chicory in ham with cheese sauce
2 heads white chicory
water, stock or wine
knob of butter
2 slices of ham
Cheese sauce or grated cheese
Place the chicory in an oven proof dish, add liquid to half the depth of the chicons, add seasonings and butter and cover. Cook in a preheated oven 190C (390F, Gas 5) for 20 minutes.
Remove the chicory from the liquid. Wrap a slice of ham round each chicon, cover with cheese sauce or grated cheese and grill until cheese is browned.