Chicon de Haren de pleine terre
Belgian endive (Cichorium intybus), or chicon, is the traditional product par excellence of the small town of Haren, which was called “Chiconville” until the 1970s. Known in Flemish as witloof (literally “white leaf”), Belgian endive is a bitter biennial plant from the family Asteraceae, and is typical of central and southern Belgium. It dates back to around 1830, the year of Belgium’s independence. It is said that Jan Lammers, a farmer from Schaerbeek, buried some chicory roots under a layer of sand in a cellar before leaving his farm to fight in the Belgian Revolution. Upon returning, he found that each root had sprouted a tight head of crisp, pleasantly bitter leaves that, having grown in the dark, were white. Frans Breziers, manager of the Brussels Botanical Garden, refined the cultivation technique.
In the early days, most endive was grown in three villages: Schaerbeek, Evere, and Haren. Rapid urbanization and the disappearance of agricultural land in the first two caused Haren to become the epicenter of production, as well as the departure point for exports to all of Europe.
There is some variation in the endives from Haren, depending on their cultivation area: Those from the Noendelle area have narrower leaves and are sold mainly on the Belgian market, while those from Keelbeek have larger leaves and are usually exported, especially to the United States.
At present “soil cultivation” is progressively disappearing and only a few cultivated plots remain for family consumption. Modern hydroponic growing systems have almost completely replaced soil cultivation and large farming companies have purchased most of the best land to build hydroponic greenhouses.
A group of elderly farmers is trying to restart traditional cultivation of the Haren endive and hand down the related knowledge. Only one merchant is left in Haren who sells this crop, while all the other retailers purchase Belgian endive elsewhere, particularly in the Hainaut area.