Published on 09/02/98

Endive, Escarole Dress Up Winter Salads

Tired of the same old lettuce in your winter salad? Try a little Cichorium endivia.

Endive and escarole, the common names for Cichorium endivia, are very common in the islands of the Mediterranean and in Greece. They are related hardy annual vegetables.

Endive and escarole are delicacies when blanched and used for salads or as a garnish.

The main difference between them is that endive has curled, fine-cut leaves while escarole has broad, flat leaves. Both are cool-season plants that grow well in the spring and better in the fall. Although endive is produced in Florida, it is grown as a winter vegetable.

What are the best varieties to grow in Georgia?

  • Full Heart Batavian (escarole) has upright broad, outer leaves and smooth, closely bunched center leaves that are creamy yellow. It takes 85 days to mature.
  • Green Curled has dark, finely cut and curled, fringed leaves and green, fleshy midribs. It takes 95 days to mature.
  • Salad King has dark green, white-ribbed leaves. It's tolerant to hot weather (less tip-burn and bolting) and frost. It takes 95 days to mature.
  • Frisan is fall endive. The heads measure up to 17 inches across and have well-filled, blanched centers. It's very hardy and takes 98 days to mature.

Endive and escarole don't do well in heat. They have to be grown as an early-spring or fall crop. They grow much the way lettuce does, responding well to fertile soil, growing temperatures between 60 and 70 and a uniform moisture supply.

Start plants inside in late February and transplant them into the garden in early April. Plant the seeds a quarter-inch deep in a container of sterile soil or directly into peat pellets. When the seedlings are less than one inch high, space them 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart in a flat.

The seedlings are ready to plant in the garden when they are 2 1/2 to 3 inches high. Use a starter fertilizer solution to get a fast start.

You can plant seed directly into the garden in mid-March to early April. Plant them a quarter-inch deep in rows 18 to 24 inches apart. When the seedlings are 1 inch high, thin or transplant 9 to 12 inches apart.

Water often during the hot summer. Endive is very hardy and will withstand frost through early winter.

Unless you blanch them, the spreading plants are likely to be bitter. When you keep sunlight from the center leaves, their green color is reduced, bitterness decreased and texture and flavor are improved.

Blanch heads after the leaves spread enough to touch the next plant. Tie the tops of the outermost leaves together as the heads develop.

Make sure that the plants are dry before tying the leaves. If the plant isn't dry, the inner leaves may rot. Blanching requires two to three weeks, and several plants may be blanched at one time.

After the blanched heads have developed, cut the plants at ground level. If the weather turns very hot in the summer or you expect a hard freeze in the winter, cut the heads. Wash them and let them drip dry. Then store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Discard the tough outer leaves.

Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.