Ornamental Separator

Luxury Vegetables of the 18th Century

Blanching is extra work, but worth it

How do you turn a tough bitter cooking green like endive, into a delicate and tender salad? Blanching! Covering an endive plant completely from sunlight stops the process of photosynthesis, and it will no longer produce dark green and bitter tasting chlorophyll in its leaves. The result is a sweet and tender endive, perfect for eating raw in a salad. Blanching is also responsible for the mild flavor of celery and romaine hearts, as well as delicacies like white asparagus.

As Historic Trades Gardeners, we demonstrate this process by covering our endive plants for one to two weeks using a heavy clay flowerpot. Only the palest inside leaves are used for salad, the others are discarded. Blanching vegetables requires extra labor, time, and attention, making them a luxury in any time period.

Here is a row of endive growing in the Colonial Garden. A useful green in the kitchen, but not very appetizing as a salad until it has been blanched. The first step is to tie up the leaves of the plant, next they will be covered by a clay pot.
The Historic Trades Gardeners are using a large clay flowerpot to cover and blanch an endive. Even the drainage hole on the bottom of the pot has been plugged so that absolutely no light reaches the leaves inside. The endive will remain covered for one to two weeks. During this time the plant continues to produce new leaves using stored energy.
Success! Here is a blanched endive after it has been uncovered in the Colonial Garden. The outer leaves have been peeled back and will not be used. Blanching produces very tender and sweet leaves but can be wasteful. Spring or fall are the ideal times to blanch greens, if the weather is too warm, we risk losing the entire plant to rot.
All these ingredients for a salad were grown and harvested by our Historic Trades Gardeners this spring. The pale white leaves are the blanched endive, also shown are lettuce, spinach, and the edible flowers of the pot marigold.

Teal Brooks is an Apprentice Gardener in the Historic Trades Department at Colonial Williamsburg. She started in her current position in 2017 and began working with the foundation in 2015. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Evergreen State College where she studied sustainable agriculture. When not working in the garden she enjoys cooking, auto repair, and going on adventures with her dog, Rico.

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