If you trundle across a Lincolnshire field today...
Jack Buck Farms, near Holbeach in Lincolnshire, are very busy people at the moment. They supply the precious raw material that nearby veggie growing business Jack Buck Growers (they used to be sister companies) nurtures to become one of the UK's tastiest but lesser-known crops.
In Europe, chicory is big business. They scoff it by the bucketload in Belgium and Holland. People in the UK tend to be a bit scared of chicory. We don't seem to know what it looks like, let alone what to do with it.
Chicory does have a fairly strong flavour. It's a touch bitter to taste, bringing a great edge to oriental dishes and in salads in combination with other flavours. It's a leafy vegetable that you can cook or eat raw, and it's great for culinary exploration!
Jack Buck Growers will take the base chicory root that the farm harvests for them. The green tops are removed at harvest and the roots are placed in big boxes in a large freezer store on their site in Holbeach. The chicory roots have to be frozen in order to fool them into thinking they've been over-wintered out in the field, as they have to undergo this process in order to sprout the magic 'chicon' - the bit we eventually eat.
Once they've been frozen for long enough, they're defrosted and set in special hydroponic growing trays. These are put into mysterious dark rooms (exposure to light makes the chicons go very green and bitter, and we want to grow them so they're pale and mild) and grown into the chicory we recognise as the tasty, unusual vegetable. This form of storage also helps to spread the availability of the British crop over the year - by freezing the roots they can be retrieved much later, and chicory can be 'seasonal' in the UK all year round.
Jack Buck Growers is the only specialist grower of chicory in the UK, and the only British grower supplying the major supermarkets.
See grower profiles for both Jack Buck Farms and Jack Buck Growers on this site.
Check out the chicory recipes and start experimenting with this under-rated, misunderstood veggie!
(hint - for anyone looking for unusual Christmas veggies, red chicory is both beautiful and delicious, and recipes for red and white chicory are interchangeable...)