grow, marvel, eat, laugh, persevere

Saturday, June 11, 2011

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.


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.

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