Monday, July 18, 2011

SUMMER'S BLUE


My mother, and most of the folks I grew up around, always called them Blue Sailors—though Dad, the botanist, would occasionally add that the more common name for the rather scraggly wayside plant with the cheery blue blooms was chicory. By either designation, it was a familiar plant, appearing along the shoulder of the road, on the sides of the shortcut path across the junkyard wasteland where Old Man Gardner parked his wrecked and rusting cars, and in the sunny, hard-packed corner behind the garden.

One thing my father pointed out me about chicory was how the flowers, one of the first to open with dawn's new light, were also likely to be closed up tight by noon—though on cloudy days, the blooms might remain open all day…or not open at all. 

Uncle Howard, whose travels occasionally took him to New Orleans, would sometimes bring back cans of chicory-laced coffee. Chicory roots, roasted and ground, are added to to the coffee as a flavor enhancer. In fact, during times when coffee has been in short supply, or simply too expensive to afford, ground chicory has regularly been wholly substituted for coffee.       

Like so many everyday things, plebeian chicory is often given no more than a passing glance. And yet, when you examine the sky-blue daisy-like flower up close, they are simply exquisite. For some reason, the darker blue stamens always remind me of candles on a cake. Come to think of it, a country byway blue-spattered on either side by dense swathes of chicory blooms, is one of summer's most delightful visual celebrations.
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14 comments:

Bonnie said...

Oh, I could not agree more Grizz. I have many glorious macro photos of 'plebian' chicory.

Blue flowers always grab my attention. I love the dark tone when they are folded back into a bud - and then the transparent blue (ranging from sky blue to a periwinkle tone) when open and exposed to the light.

I was just culling through some photographs yesterday of Queen Anne's Lace - noticing how nature had provided a beautiful background of blue chicory to set off the 'Lace'. And we call them weeds!!!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Grizz - this must be telepathy. I have just put a post on about going out to look for chicory on our lane and not being able to find any this year. Then I go to my side bar - you are at the top and what do I see but a chicory flower! It is one of my favourites so thank you for posting it - and great minds think alike as we say here!

Arija said...

I have always love the simple chicory, it is such a cheerful companion to long and tiring walks to the next village.

If you add some dry roasted barley to the chicory, it gives a much nicer flavour and undercuts the bitterness.

Grizz………… said...

Bonnie…

I have scads of chicory photos, too. I just love these blue blooms. But you know what they say…wildflowers are just weeds with good press agents. It's really a matter of perspective, seeing things for what they are, versus our tendency to overlook the commonplace.

In a way, I think this stems from a sort of jealousy—we so often want what we don't have, even to the point of resentment. Rarer must be better; the exotic to be preferred over the prosaic. The same mindset accounts for the "grass is always greener over yonder hill" impetus, or the blindness of the "girl next door" syndrome.

Familiar plants are just too ordinary, too conventional and recurrent to be worth a truly close look. We fail to appreciate the riches and beauty in our own back yards.

Grizz………… said...

Weaver…

You wouldn't believe me if I told you how often I get ready to post something, then see that someone on another blog has just posted the same thing! It's not only great minds working alike, but a whole bunch of us seeing and responding to the same signs of the seasons.

Actually, chicory seems in relatively short supply hereabouts, as well. At least in my yard, and along the nearby roads. Some years several of the fallow fields close to the cottage host vast patches, and local roadsides are fringed in blue. This time around, there just a few clumps here and there, and lots of sparsely scattered plants.

Grizz………… said...

Arija…

I've dug chicory roots, roasted them in the oven until they were brittle, ground them up, and added at about a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio to my ground coffee—and actually came to like to extra touch of bitterness. I don't think I ever tried a straight chicory brew, though. I can, however, see how the barley might help to ameliorate.

Gail said...

Hi GRIZZ-

Exquisite indeed, and yes, the stamens are so like birthday candles a sparkle! :-)
I loved learning about cicory and the roots as coffee, I had no idea. You are a wealth f natural information. I appreciate very tid bit you write and photograph so beautifully.
Love Gail
peace.....

Grizz………… said...

Gail…

Thank you, as always—I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

I've always been interested in the history and folklore of plants. But I'm never quite sure whether readers of this blog want longer or shorter pieces—so in this case, I've left about 90 percent of that info out. Too many would-be writers tend to overpower with details, perhaps hoping to impress readers with their knowledge. Chicory has a far longer history and usage than just as a coffee substitute or additive—in salads, cooking, herbal medicine, and as forage for livestock. I'm no plant expert, just a storyteller. I'd rather weave a detail or two into a more personal piece than overwhelm you with botanical data. That way, I can write of chicory again soon, and have something new to say.

But that's just me…and I'm not above (and do!) break my own rules on occasion.

Stay cool in this heat! I'm working outside and currently taking a water break. But it's getting hotter by the hour.

Gail said...

HI AGAIN -
I am NEVER overwhelmed by the info you share about nature, plants, animals, human or otherwise :-) I am always fascinated, and thoroughly entertained because of your creative style and personal touch. You capture me and hold me every time.

With love and high regard
Gail
peace...p.s. ya, it is very hot and humid here. I am homebound in the A/C doing some music stuff and indoor chores, cooking some things to have made, and catching up on laundry. It's all good.

Grizz………… said...

Gail…

Hey, I'm back inside again for another refreshment break from the heat.

I appreciate your input. Like I said, I just never know whether to write more or less…though old ways and old days die hard. When I first began writing, I wrote a coupe thousand feature magazine articles, which were 2500–3500 words long, before shorter format features came into play—so I still tend to write long vs. short. But I also know folks have time constraints, and can't always sit down and read a 1200 word blog post. So I dither—too much, not enough?

And there's the obvious fault that I'm a motor-mouthed Irishman… :-)

Julie Baumlisberger said...

Thanks, Gail, for telling Grizz he can tell us as much as he wants ! Grizz, your blog about chicory instantly transported me to my childhood home, where it grew with colourful cheery abandon along our driveway and at the edge of the field...Thank you for taking me "home".

It is also very hot up here in Ontario, where they are predicting temps in the high 30's Celcius, which is darn near 100 degrees Fahrenheit...record breaking for this area...

Grizz………… said...

Julie…

I really appreciate your nice comments—and more than that, it makes me feel better about the way I do these posts. Frankly, I'm more about the story than lots of facts or info. You are a perfect example. It was the story aspects that took you back, and I'd rather do that any day than wow you with my expertise.

Scott said...

Thanks for the macro image of chickory, Grizz. I had never taken the time to look at this "weed" before, and now I realize what I'd been missing. I guess I shouldn't write off the familiar so readily.

Grizz………… said...

Scott…

I'm just glad I've helped you "see" this wild bloomer more appreciatively, as it's one of my favorites…common or not. When looked at closely, chicory is about as pretty as any wildflower (or garden species, for that matter) I know. Really a lovely, striking plant.