We can grow our own coffee in the form of chicory. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Growing a coffee alternative: chickory and beet root

I've been looking for a tasty coffee substitute that I can grow

By Mary Lowther

It isn’t easy coming up with a column every week that is as fresh and nutritious for the reader as the greens found in our own gardens. My mind must be cleared of extraneous distractions; politics, pandemics and the trials of minor royalty must be shunted aside long enough to carefully select a seasonally relevant topic useful to the reader.

The memories of a lifetime of experience must be reduced to print and then compared with those related by the great agriculturalists, which is why I have assembled a library that runs from modern writers like Steve Solomon and Dan Jason and back through the centuries to Coke of Norfolk and the great Lucius Junius Columella that I use to produce the perfect Caesar salad that is presented to you, my audience. Sometimes, however, the rolling seasons and accumulating years bring me to a place where I have covered the relevant subjects in previous columns and am hard pressed to avoid repeating myself. That’s when I ignore my own trial and error, abandoning my extensive collection of garden memoirs and turn to magazines like Woman’s World.

Now I know that some readers assume that women who read this stuff do so because of the fashion, interior decoration and glamour, but I read it for the articles. Unlike the hardcore stuff like Elle, Vogue and Family Circle, Woman’s World often contains all kinds of interesting tips that can be read while waiting in line at the Country Grocer, like the latest issue on the value of chicory root coffee being rich in inulin, a pre-biotic fibre that aids digestion.

I’ve been looking for a tasty coffee substitute that I can grow, so I bought some instant coffee made from chicory root, toasted barley and beet root, and made a cuppa. It wasn’t bad at all.

Annie Proulx writes in her book Salad Gardening that coffee can be made from witloof chicory root, and since I’m growing some this year anyway, I’m going to try to make some coffee from it. I may make powder from dried beets to add, but I don’t care for barley so I’ll leave that out. I’ll grow out the witloof and beet the same way as for forcing chicons in the winter, clipping the centre stalk through the year but leaving the leaves to nourish the roots. Come the fall when they stop growing I’ll lift them up, trim the leaves to one or two inches and dry them out. For the coffee ones, I’ll brush off the dirt after they’ve dried, slice them and toast them in a warm oven — I’ll try 250 F and bring them out when they’ve become brown but not burned. Just for comparison, I’ll dry a few slices in the dehydrator too.

I plan on storing them in a dry, cool place and just bring out what I need to make the coffee. For chicory or the combination of chicory and beet coffee, I’ll follow the directions from my mom’s wartime recipe book that says to use one tablespoon of grounds to two cups of cold water. Bring to a slow simmer and maintain this heat for twenty minutes. Take it off the heat and let sit for eight minutes.

David, the history reader, also has an extensive library that contains dozens of memoirs from the various wars when naval blockade made coffee unavailable to the European continent, all of which adamantly insist that “ersatz” coffee made from burnt bread crumbs and chicory was dreadful stuff. But they drank it, so it can’t have been that bad. Many years ago David asked one of his father’s co-workers, Klaus Muenter, if that was true and was told that “The second best thing about being brought to Canada as a prisoner of war was the coffee.”

The best thing, it turned out, was life in the Cowichan because he moved here. I’ll drink to that!

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

Lake Cowichan Gazette