What Is Chicory?
Chicory is derived from the root of the chicory plant, which after it has been dried and roasted, consists of mainly compounded sugars, and more specifically, fructose (fruit-sugar). It contains no caffeine and is really safe to the human system.
Alexandria is one of the most important chicory producing areas in South Africa and is also known for pineapple production and dairy farming. This area also includes the Alexandria State Forest, known as Langebos to the locals, which is a narrow stretch of pristine indigenous forest bordering the Alexandria dune field, one of the largest active dune fields in the world.
Recently the Woody Cape Nature Reserve, which stretches from the Sundays River mouth to the Bushman's River mouth and includes the dune field and the indigenous forest, has been incorporated into the Addo Elephant National Park
I mentioned in my previous story about Dudley Foxcroft who was married to Thora Smith. She was the daughter of Robert Thornton Smith who started farming chicory at Groote Vlei, but he soon realised that the soil at Kaba was better suited to the product. The Mullers were farming there and Robert bought up all the chicory that they and other farmers grew. By 1920 they were netting 6500 pounds of chicory. An early co-op to market the product foundered but a later one did much better. (From the family history of John Baird Smith, ancestor of Thora Foxcroft.)
Chicory roots are very similar to parsnips and the seed looks like carrot seed. After the lands have been tilled, planters are used to sew the Chicory seed in rows. It sprouts pretty soon and then the green leaves can be easily seen. The lands should be kept clear of weeds by cultivators or chopping out the weeds with a hoe. When the plants are big they send out tall stems of pretty blue flowers and this would usually be the time to use a plough to turn the plant out with their roots pointing upwards. The roots are all collected and left in the sun to dry after their tops are cut off.
The chicory would be transported from the lands to a shed adjoining a kiln which my dad had built. The roots would be cut up with a chaff cutter turned by a belt attached to a tractor. The pieces of roots would then be spread on a steel mesh tray and pushed into the kiln above the oven which was fired with big logs of wood. The kiln had not to be too hot or the chicory would be incinerated, but it had to be hot enough to dry and roast the roots.
The roasted roots would be taken to the factory of the Chicory Control Board for further processing from where it would be ground and sold to be mixed with pure coffee. These methods have long since been done away with and farmers now deliver the raw roots to the factory for processing.
Chicory was a better product to grow as it was not as badly affected by droughts as pineapples. Unfortunately ill health and difficult times caused my dad to eventually sell the farm.
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