A tale of two endives

Pale purple crunchy goodness, with just a touch of bitter.

Pale purple crunchy goodness, with just a touch of bitter.

This week we discuss the endive, not to be confused with the endive.

There are two veggies claiming this name: One is a curly, green, ruffled leaf pronounced “EN-dive”; the other is a pale, elongate, slender leaf pronounced “ON-deev”—and that’s the one we want. The French accent comes from the vegetable’s origin in Belgium, where it was accidentally “invented” in 1830. As history tells it, a farmer stored some chicory roots in his cellar that winter. In the cold and dark, each root sprouted a pale but elegant, faintly purple bundle of leaves. The farmer sampled one. It was slightly bitter, delightfully crunchy and destined for fame.

Today, some Europeans call the endive “white gold,” due to its starring role in continental cuisine. In America, we’re still learning to say its name correctly. If you’re among those familiar with the “ON-deev” for dipping on a plate of hummus and soft cheese, you’ve most likely bitten into the principle product of farmer Rich Collins of Fairfield. The 1982 UC Davis grad has built an endive empire—250 acres of chicory plants adjacent to a cold-storage house, where 4 million pounds of pale, bitter leaves blossom in the dark each year. Discover Endive, Collins’ company, may be the only substantial grower of this vegetable in the nation.

Collins’ endives can be found at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, the Davis Food Co-op and the Davis Farmers Market. Tell them you want endives. If you accidentally say endive, they’ll know you meant endive.