From The Library at Hurtfew
Jump to: navigation, search
The grand success of the British magicians Mr. Norrell and Mr. Strange naturally excited the keenest envy in the breast of the Corsican Tyrant and he quickly determined to find a magician of his own. Alas, a thorough search throughout his empire produced only one Witloof, a Dutchman. Witloof claimed to possess a magic wardrobe into which, like the Delphic priestess with her fumey cave, he would on occasion enter and shortly afterwards return with the answer to any query that was put to him.

This wardrobe was conveyed carefully to Versailles and there Witloof undertook to use it to answer every question the Emperor proposed. The Emperor made three enquiries, and watched with the liveliest interest as Witloof thrice entered the wardrobe and thrice returned with answers that gratified the imperial wish in every particular. Now, whether it was this which excited his suspicions, or the hideous noises and dreadful lights which issued from the wardrobe whenever Witloof went into it, we cannot be sure: but whatever Buonaparte was, he was no fool, and so after a second or two of thought he pulled open the door of the wardrobe and discovered inside it a goose (for the noises) and a dwarf (to prod the goose and to make the strange fiery lights by igniting saltpetre). The goose was soon eaten, and Witloof and the dwarf promptly vanished - but not, it is to be feared, by magical means[28].

The word 'witloof' translates as 'white leaf" and in Belgium it is a name given to a sort of vegetable, a species of endive (known in Great Britain as chicory); the spelling with double "o" refers to the Flemish etymology. It has a small head of cream-coloured, bitter leaves. It is grown completely underground or indoors in the absence of sunlight in order to prevent the leaves from turning green and opening up (etiolation). The plant has to be kept just below the soil surface as it grows, only showing the very tip of the leaves. It is often sold wrapped in blue paper to protect it from light and so preserve its pale colour and delicate flavour. The smooth, creamy white leaves may be served stuffed, baked, boiled, cut and cooked in a milk sauce, or simply cut raw. The tender leaves are slightly bitter; the whiter the leaf, the less bitter the taste. The harder inner part of the stem at the bottom of the head should be cut out before cooking to prevent bitterness. Belgium exports chicon/witloof to over 40 different countries and its witloof is considered the best there is. The technique for growing witloof/blanched endives was accidentally discovered in the 1850s in Schaerbeek, Belgium. The vegetable is an integral part of Belgian cuisine.