Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Grow Swiss Chard for Beauty and Versatility

I had to laugh at myself for ranting about not growing eggplant this year only because it's pretty considering that's the biggest reason I grew swiss chard for the first time last year.

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Growing up in the south, I don't recall ever eating swiss chard, or seeing my friends eat swiss chard or ever even hearing of swiss chard.  I'm sure it exists there but unfortunately, I wasn't shopping in the fresh vegetable section of the grocery store much and I didn't garden back then.  After I moved to Chicago and started gardening and blogging I discovered it on blogs, pictures of it drawing me in.

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There is something about swiss chard, the way the light colored stalks statuesquely support the giant deep green leaves. I am mesmerized by the way the veins squiggle through the leaves.  Swiss chard commands attention.  It's striking in a way no other greens are.  And the rainbow varieties with their bright colored stems seem more like vegetables that would exist only in fairy tale gardens where cinematographers have manipulated everything into bigger brighter, more beautiful versions that could never exist in real life.  They're just incredible.

Last year I direct sowed swiss chard into the corners of all 6 of my raised beds and they grew bigger and more beautiful all summer, not going to seed until the very end of the growing season.  I was amazed how tucking them in could make my garden look so pretty.  "Holy Crap! Look at that chard!", one friend said as she stood on her tip toes peering out my kitchen window one late August afternoon.  It was huge by then, the sun gold cherry tomatoes I hadn't properly staked dangling over the top of a fuchia one, yellow nasturtium rambling through an orange one.  All the other plants crowded them but they didn't seem to mind.

Besides looking cool, swiss chard is also incredibly versatile.  In fact, it is one of the vegetables that fits all three of the dishes I'm pledging to cook more of and plan my garden around this year.  When mature, the leaves are firm enough to hold up nicely in soups and stir fry and it is fabulous picked young and eaten in mixed green salads.  So I hear.

Truth be told, I only cooked swiss chard once last summer, sauteed in olive oil with a little garlic.  The texture was silky with a wonderful buttery flavor.  Since then, I'm deep in a soup and stir fry cooking frenzy and swiss chard keeps coming up in recipes.  This year I'll sow the seeds early and heavily in parts of my garden so that I can harvest the young leaves for salads and leave some to grow larger, chop them up and add them to stir fry.  I'll also try freezing it for soups I'll make when the garden is finished and resting under a blanket of snow.

If you haven't tried growing swiss chard, give it a shot.  Whether you need it to be utilitarian or just pretty, it won't fail you.  And if you've got a great recipe for swiss chard, please share it.

5 comments:

  1. I love homegrown chard. Of all the things I've grown, it was some of the most surprising. As you described it, "buttery." I bought some chard this summer from the grocery store and it was awful. I miss having a garden sometimes!

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  2. Completely, totally with you on chard. Versatile, beautiful, easy to grow -- it's just awesome. Also, it's the one green I can get my kids to eat - the flavor is mild enough and the colors are pretty enough that they have no problem eating it. Also, it freezes well -- I'm still eating chard from last summer's garden.

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  3. Hail, fellow Swiss chard lover! It's always great to find a kindred spirit. For years, I've been on a one farmgirl mission to convince *everyone* to grow their own Swiss chard, including apartment dwellers since it does so well in containers.

    I grow Swiss chard nearly all year round in my zone 5 Missouri garden. Lately we've been making fresh apple, carrot, chard, and ginger juice (a strange color but very tasty), but one of my favorite ways to eat it is on this Swiss Chard and Artichoke white pizza. That post also includes links to more Swiss chard recipes I love. :)

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  4. Katie - once swiss chard wins the One Seed Chicago contest maybe I can get some extra seeds to send you and you can start that garden again. I've got connections! ;)

    Colleen - it's funny that you say that about the kids liking to eat it because of the bright colors because that is one thing that weirded me out a little, from an eating perspective. I'm going to need your help with freezing later!

    Susan - thanks for visiting my blog! I am a long time reader of yours. That swiss chard pizza looks incredible. You've gotten me so excited that I am tempted to go sow some swiss chard seeds in basement under the grow lights! Thanks for the link to all the great recipes. I can't wait to try them once I have some swiss chard to harvest.

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  5. I wish I had enough room to plant swiss chard! I would much rather grow it than buy it at the grocery store, and I do buy it often because I use it all the time in recipes. It's delicious and healthy (one of the best food sources of potassium) and (as you note), very versatile. Here's one of my favorite swiss chard recipes from Annie's Eats Blog: http://annies-eats.com/2012/01/18/tortellini-soup-with-beans-and-chard/

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