Castlefranco is another chicory variety, but it strongly resembles cabbage. Nicknamed winter rose, castlefranco grows in heads. Its light green leaves, decorated with splotches of red, are less rubbery than cabbage and have a definite celery taste. It’s available through January, Marc Marchini said.
Cardone, a cousin of the artichoke, is covered with thorny spikes. Cardone is a holiday staple at Christmas and Easter meals especially in Italian homes, Marc Marchini said. The plant’s leaves and thorns are removed at harvest and the stalks are usually boiled, he said. The boiled stalks may be used in salads or the stalks may be deep fried, sautéed or steamed.
Harvesting was scheduled to begin Nov. 18, Marc Marchini said, and there will be plenty of cardone available for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The harvest takes a break in January and returns just before Easter, he said. Demand for the commodity is strongest in U.S. cities with large Italian-American populations, such as New York and San Francisco, he said.
Growing specialty vegetables with abbreviated seasons can be trying for the company and its employees, Marchini said.
“Every year we have to retrain them because the seasons are short and they forget — and so do we,” he said.
Jenny McAfee, vice president of sales, directs marketing of the company's specialty crops, with support from Marc Marchini.
The Watsonville radicchio concluded at the end of October and moved immediately to Le Grand. Picking and packing in the valley will continue through January, Marchini said, and then move to Mexico for a few weeks. By late March, the spring harvest will begin in Le Grand.
“Our most popular packing for radicchio is our nine-pack cartons for the domestic market,” Marchini said.
The company also has a 12-pack carton for exports, which Marchini said is a favorite in the Pacific Rim countries. Another radicchio variety, treviso, follows the same harvest pattern and is available year round, Marchini said. So, too, is fennel, another stalk vegetable that is commonly used in salads and soups.