Thursday, June 7, 2012

Endive On A Stick

Fred has been searching desperately for our Birth Certificates.  Yes, some local natural-born morons have challenged our right to squat -- even as we serve as caretakers for the entire Haddock Family and Corporation property, including its physical (born, unborn, and dreamt of) and spiritual habitants, all of whom can trace their blood lines to Canadian farmers of French origin.

The accusations stem from paranoia that we are using Haddock monies and inexhaustible talents to whip the Montréal Canadiens into even more of a frenzy than the latest Hab's free agent dabble. I mean, really, aren't we all just glad that we could reunite the Kostitsyn brothers? Sure, we have enough Stanley Cups to decorate every ballroom, guest suite, barn, and hay-strewn ice oval but does that give you any right to turn into an inbred cross-eyed drooling birther?

When stressed, Fred goes shopping, and his most recent acquisition is a new camera.  When he left the Manor mid-afternoon yesterday, scratching off in Ruby the Honda CR-V. tail end wiggling with excitement (Ruby's, not Fred's), we all thought he had gone off to grab Marlinspike Hall's fair measure of First Endive.  Belgian white endive is classic, so we loving lay its pale production down in the lowest of the dark cellars, but psst?!  Are you up on Californian Richard Collins?

Forging his European experience with his American know-how, Collins’ farm grew into the nation’s top endive producer. But it took time, just like endive.

Endive is a twice-grown crop. The first step is the planting of chicory, which grows literally like a weed throughout the Golden State. Collins started with five acres and now has 275 acres throughout Central and Northern California. The root is harvested with the bud on top. The roots are then placed in cold storage — forcing hibernation — for up to 10 months.

After hibernating, the roots are placed side-by-side in trays. The trays, stacked several rows high, are then put into the dark climate-controlled “forcing room.” The roots are fed a special liquid diet and the roots then feed the bud, which in four weeks is a little head of endive.

Collins, the president of California Vegetable Specialties in Rio Vista, said his company produced 16,000 pounds of endive in its first year. Today CVS — formerly Rebel Farms — produces approximately 4.5 million pounds of the specialty crop a year. They are expecting to reach 5 million next year.

“Now, (16,000 pounds) is a so-so day of packed product,” he said.

CVS doesn’t look like your typical farm. The 30,000-square-foot growing facility is on the outskirts of Rio Vista in an agricultural zone. However, the two large buildings look more appropriate for storing produce than growing it.

The newly finished cold-storage unit houses the hibernating roots. There are four rooms that can hold 4,000 tons of chicory roots. The unit is specially designed with an insulation R value of 100. A typical home has an R value of 20. Industry minimums are 28.

“It’s very, very well-insulated,” said Collins, who added that his hope is to be able to shut off the system during peak hours to save money and take pressure off the power grid. “It’s probably the most efficient cold-storage building in America. It’s going to be a big saver for us.

“We projected a cost model, and were running 12 to 15 percent under, so that’s good,” he added. “We’re optimistic it will continue.”

In the second building is where the magic happens: roots are “awakened” out of hibernation, placed in trays, rolled into dark rooms for several weeks and then emerge with either yellowish or red heads. The yellow in the leaves is an indication of chlorophyll, which is what makes leaves change color in fall. If endive was not grown in the dark, it would be green. Collins noted that if endive sits in stores too long it can begin to turn green because of the lights.

After approximately four weeks (some trays may take longer), the trays are removed from the dark rooms. Employees sever the endive heads from the roots, take off a few of the outer leaves so they are left with the tight inner core and package them for sale. The roots, leaves and endive that is below company standards are discarded and sent to farmers for cow feed.

While giving cows a good meal makes Collins happy, he’s more excited about feeding people and bringing awareness to endive.

“It’s great being a farmer,” he said. “It’s good and versatile. You can make a lot of salads, but it’s also good for cooking.”
Of course, Collins cannot spill all the beans, cannot reveal the role of Captain Haddock's Pink Submarine or its five sub satellites that surface now and again in the moat (and only when Certifiably Algae Free), be it to transport all of our Miniature Olympic sporting teams, their gear, and chefs, or be it to assist in the storage of Corporate Important Paper Work.

But you can believe me when I write that our bovines are by far the most cheerful bulls, cows, and calves West of the Lone Alp, and that loving on endive is sometimes a place to start in the group therapy sessions held in Loft A-3 out in the Drug Rehab Carnie Barn. Thank God for endive, beef, and addicts making such great synergy because while the peanut brittle we first had them producing (therapeutically producing, you understand) was a good product to promote -- we used preferred local ingredients, from the artisinal processed white sugar to the hydroponic vanilla bean pods -- the heat of high summer and the sticky nature of brittle, well, they produced perhaps a better fly trap than amuse-bouche.

You wanna know what's scary?  Haddock Home immediately formed a committee on the viability of peanut brittle fly traps as cute little curio thingies, strange and interesting -- and "as seen on TV."

The famous Pierre Poulin designed and built the Schvitz, mother sub to all miniature bathyscaphes, and since The Captain loves Québec and various Québécois taverns, despite the fact that robots have essentially replaced his beloved personal submersibles, he volunteereed, between shots, to channel Richard Collins' endive booty back and forth from Canada to the little moat surrounding Marlinspike Hall.

Yeah, so, anyway.  This post was supposed to be about other things.  You lucked out this time!  I'm too busy fielding messsages from tech-challenged Captain Haddock, translating barks that issue from Fred's snout, soothing Marmy Fluffy Butt and reassuring her squeaking self that no one is laughing at her for having feline herpes virus in her eyes, and providing [moist] warm flannel to apply to Bianca Castafiore's inflamed throat.

Dobby is watching me like a hawk, but not lifting a paw to help.  Buddy is watching my every move as well, believing that I have plastic bags of frozen shaved tuna flakes stuffed in my bra or taped to my lower leg.

Oh, yeah, my leg is leaking again.  I see MDVIP Go-To-Guy this afternoon to find out, possibly, why my right hip has gone to hell.  He can check out the leak and also advise me whether the pain in my chest might kill me, maybe sometime before ManorFest 2012 Prep goes into high gear.

Recipes, people, I need recipes -- what can you do with endive?

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