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.

Grow Swill 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.

DSC_1847.JPG

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.
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.
DSC_3750.JPG
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.

Go here to vote for swiss chard at One Seed Chicago before April.

Tuesday, January 11, 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.  


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.  


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.  


Go here to vote for Swiss Chard at One Seed Chicago before April.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Grow What You Eat

I can't tell you how many veggies I give away from my garden because I grow stuff I don't eat or because it's ripe and I'm not in the mood to cook whatever it is.  Eggplant, I'm talking about you.

I'll be honest, I don't even like eggplant.  Yet, I grow it nearly every year.  I am seduced by it's beauty.  Those giant deep purple fruits nestled behind the leaves of the plant excite me.  For some reason, looking for the eggplant always reminds me of hunting Easter eggs and finding the special golden ones.  When I pick them, I put them on the kitchen counter in a place where I can see them from the living room and marvel at their beauty, rearranging them when I walk by like I used to do Christmas presents under the tree.  Then reality sets in.  What the hell am I gonna do with these?  I hate eggplant!  While I love sending fresh veggies to work with my husband who gives them away to his veggie loving coworkers, I'm tired of buying fresh, out of season veggies for all the soups I'm making this winter.  So in 2011, I'm on a mission to focus on growing what I actually eat.  Eggplant, I'll miss you.

Planting with a purpose:

  • Soup
  • Salad
  • Stir fry
  • Tomatoes (in my garden, these get their own category)
Instead of perusing the seed catalogs, ordering seeds whose description or pictures have seduced me, I'll have my cookbooks by my side, selecting seeds from ingredients used in my favorite recipes.  And instead of stressing about cooking everything at the moment it's ripe, I'll focus on perfecting my freezing skills.  I never grow carrots because I don't like to eat them raw.  Gasp!  Yet I continue to buy them at the grocery for soup recipes, lecturing myself the whole way. These are so easy to grow! They don't even take up much space in the garden!  God knows where these things even came from!  Or what they've been sprayed with!  Bad gardener!

Are you guilty of growing veggies you have no intention of eating, too?  Or not growing ones you do eat for some dumb reason like me?  If so, I'd like to know about it.  

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How Can I Make Garden Fresh Soup in the Wintertime?

Welcome the kitchen readers!

In honor of soup week over at the kitchn and, well, because they mentioned me on their site today which made me feel sort of famous, I thought the least I could do is write a soup post.

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Every week for the past month I've made a pot of soup on Sunday, stored it in the fridge in Ball canning jars then brought it to work everyday for lunch.  In past years I run through the pizza, marinara and salsa fairly quickly then watch the empty canning jars sit around collecting dust until late summer when I'm ready to put away more tomato based products.

I've made some amazing soups lately including my two favorites, one with fennel, escarole and delicious red peppers and the other with greens and black-eyed peas but it's driving me crazy because nearly everything I've used in my soups can be grown easily in the garden.  But, it's wintertime in Chicago now so the fresh produce I'm using in my soup is probably being shipped from lord knows where.

It's been around 10 degrees in Chicago this week.  Soup gives me a heaping dose of veggies and warms me up.  But Chicago summers it's hot.  When it's 100 degrees outside and my vegetable garden is producing massive amounts of garden fresh soup goodness, hot soup is the last thing I want.  I want cold crisp salads.   Every day.  And I'm still having withdrawals for them long after my salad crops are finished.

I ought to be able to have it both ways.  My cool fresh garden salads in the summer and garden fresh soup in the winter.

The two options I thought of were freezing the fresh veggies or making the soup in the summer with veggies straight from the garden, then canning the soup to use for the winter.  But can you even freeze things like escarole and swiss chard?  Is it possible to can the soup using the standard hot water bath? And if you can, will it taste awful at eating time?

If you have found a way to eat soup in the winter made from ingredients straight from your garden, I need to hear from you!