Saturday, April 9, 2011

Growing Heirloom Endive & Escarole

Riccia Pancalieri Endive

One of the most wonderful things about growing a winter garden in Kihei is the fresh salad greens. Each winter I trail many different lettuces and gourmet greens - this winter I planted endive and escarole.

Like radicchio, endive and escarole are cool season greens from the chicory family but they're surprisingly more heat and sun tolerant than most of the radicchio I've grown. They need 3 to 4 months to reach full size but they can be grown as micro-greens.

Tres Fine Maraichere Endive

Endive leaves have different levels of frilliness or cut. Tres Fine had the finest cut of all the varieties I've trialed.

Verde Fiorentina Escarole
Mahalo Robin for the seeds!

Escarole looks like a huge flower with a rosette of tender leaves growing in the center.

Bionda Cuore Pieno Escarole

Blanching a Head of Endive

Endive and escarole are traditionally blanched to turn the center leaves tender and buttery. There are various techniques for blanching the heads - I pulled the leaves upward and secured them with a plastic coated wire. Blanching can also be done by placing a bowl over the center of the plant or a board down the center of a row of plants.

The recommended number of days to blanch endive and escarole varies from 5 days to 2 weeks. I found that 5 to 7 days in full sun was sufficient. The color of the centers after blanching varied for each variety and ranged from light lemon to a beautiful golden yellow.

I think the best month to plant endive and escarole from seed is November. I plant seeds in containers filled with an organic potting soil amended with green sand and azomite. The plants need a soil depth of at least 5 in. I amended the soil every 2 weeks with organic fish emulsion and usually watered them daily.

Verde Fiorentina Escarole,
Riccia Pancalieri and Tres Fine Maraichere Endive

One of the best things about growing endive and escarole is that they aren't bothered by any of  the destructive Kihei insects or cabbageworms. It's one of a few salad greens that doesn't need to be covered with a row cover or tulle.

I found that endive and escarole grew larger in full sun but they survived our winter climate better when grown in partial shade. Like lettuce and cabbage, they don't grow as large in Kihei as they do in cooler climates

Tres Fine Maraichere seeds are available from The Natural Gardening Company.
Gourmet Seed and Seeds From Italy have large selections of Italian endive and escarole. Wild Garden Seed also has a good selection.

Endive is used in mesclun salad mixes but escarole is more commonly used in Italian cuisine. Following is a link to several recipes for escarole:


  1. Endive is such a pretty plant. I'm not in love with the bitter taste though. A tiny bit is good, but a lot is really bad. Someday I'm just not gourmet.

  2. The endive and escarole look beautiful! My escarole was damaged in the cold frames over the winter and I need to re-plant some. I think they are both going to have to wait until fall though.

    I glad that the seeds worked well for you.

  3. You must be enjoying some amazing salads at your house Jane ; )

  4. Hi Daphne! Endive is beautiful and it is somewhat bitter just like radicchio. I used to live in San Francisco - a very Italian city and I learned to love the chicories as they're quite popular there.

    Hi Robin! That's unfortunate about your escarole! I'm going to let the escarole grow a little bigger and then I'll blanch them. I'll email you a photo so you can see what they look like.

    Hi Julie! I eat salads every day while I can because as soon as the nights warm up it's over for salad season. I'm loving this cool spring - I'm glad you wished for it!!

  5. Beautiful heads of escarole and endive. Glad you can grow them in the winter months. I'm not a fan of bitter greens, just a small amount in salad goes a long way for me, but I love the look of bitter green leaves (any variety).

  6. Hi Mac! Endive and escarole are really pretty plants but they are bitter by themselves. I have several recipes for cooking with escarole that I'm going to try when I harvest these. I love the endive in mesclun salad mixes.

  7. I love endive and escarole too. It's amazing they grow well for you despite the heat. Radicchio does ok here in spring but prefers our fall temps. Your frilly endives are lovely!

  8. Hi villager! I'm glad you like the chicories too. The frilly endives are good in salads and the Tres Fine was especially pretty as the leaves are delicate. I bet radicchio is beautiful in your fall garden.

  9. Besides the fresh salad, what i love about my escarole is that slugs completely ignore the heads.