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Let’s Cook: Swiss Chard and Saxophone Medley

By Staff | Aug 28, 2015

I think it is safe to say that Swiss chard does not spend much time in the kitchens of today. This is according to my own mini-survey that I have been conducting since May. In early May I knelt at mother earth and planted Swiss chard on the west side of our home – nothing large, just a cozy patch. It has grown amazingly well. My introduction to this fine vegetable came from my parents, as they often planted it in their garden. One year in particular, it was so abundant that we actually canned several quarts.

By the time graduations were rolling around in late May, the Swiss chard was deeply-rooted and taking off. I figured, if it mattered to me, someone else might like to hear some cheery news about Swiss chard, too. Here are the common responses: “Oh I haven’t thought of Swiss chard in years,” “What is that?,” “You actually like that stuff?,” “Isn’t it like spinach?”

When the State Fair rolled around, I was still talking chard. FINALLY, there was a ray of hope. It came late one night after a grandstand concert at the State Fair. We were enjoying a late night snack with Clint and Tina Hartsoch. Swiss chard was mentioned, and Tina whipped out her phone and showed me a photo of a beautiful row she had growing in her garden south of Ray. Just like Aerosmith, I could relate to “Livin’ on the Edge.” This image was proof there was someone else in North Dakota who could be “Crazy” about Swiss chard as well!

Please allow me to ramble on a bit about chard, or Swiss chard. This vegetable belongs to the goosefoot family, and apparently was the so-called “beet” of the ancients and of the Middle Ages. Yes, Aristotle mentioned a red chard in 350 B.C. and Roman writers made frequent reference to this vegetable. (Perhaps mentioning that their togas were much more flattering with a diet of chard!) It was well-respected by the herbalists of Europe in its red, yellow and white form. So now we know that Chard was very social in ancient times.

Chard is a close relative of the robust beet, and the diverse color and leaf formation of this vegetable explains why it has various popular names, such as “leaf beet,” “spinach beet,” “Swiss beet,” and one loved especially by jewelers, “silver beet”, and so forth. There are colorful varieties such as “Rainbow” and even a “Rhubarb Chard”, which sports ribs of the same tone of colored as rhubarb and is often featured for color in salads.

You will be delighted to know that there is a wild form of chard, and it is found in the Canary Islands along the coast of Mediterranean as far as the Caspian Sea and Persia (Iran), and sometimes along the sea coast of England. So in addition to being attractive and nutritious, chard is a bit of a world traveler. So what is there not to love about the bubbly-leafed fellow?

Swiss Chard is often called the “cut and come again” vegetable because it permits continuous cropping – another plus. It is known to be rich in vitamins B, C and D. Some folks feel it looks like spinach, and when the leaves are the size of spinach it can be used as spinach in fresh salads or cooked as greens. Save the fleshy stocks or midribs and prepare them like celery stalks or asparagus by boiling them until tender. Today’s younger cooks have a lot of “life going on” and often nutrition takes a back seat in cooking. Frozen meals, boxed foods, and take out come first because they are handy. Swiss chard, with its ease of growing and cooking, can add much nutrition to the family table.

An important tip I learned from my mom was to use unsalted water to keep the chard from turning a dark color. Best to season chard just before serving and to serve it as hot as possible. It is also good to note that light green chard leaves are milder than the deep green chard. However, cooking a combination of light and dark is delicious. Use only crisp, tender and fresh leaves with good fleshly stocks.

Chard and music seem to be going together this summer. Lydia recently had Band Camp at Minot Central Campus. She has decided, with the direction of Kari Files, to play the Alto Saxophone. She had her first lessons with Mr. Johnson last week and has been playing “Hot Cross Buns” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in our yard repeatedly. I think the chard is liking the serenade! Its leaves are greener, stalks getting taller, and from time to time they wiggle to the beat.

This reminds me of when Bev Grimsley, our neighbor in Underwood, did her science project on the effect that a variety of piano music would have on plants. She had several plants, to which she played only Baptist Hymns. Boy, did they grow straight! Another group heard only classical music – they tended to grow slow, but solid. The third group of plants enjoyed such tunes as the “Entertainer.” They had bright leaves and seemed to grow all the time! So who knows, Lydia may be helping her newest-liked vegetable to grow.

Swiss chard is easy to cook, and I prefer to cook the stems first for about 10-15 minutes. Once they are tender, I add the leaves on top and cook them for an additional 10 minutes. Once done, season with salt, pepper, a dash of nutmeg and clove, and a bit of butter. This is delicious. My dad liked it served this way-boiled well then sprinkled with salt and pepper and a dash of vinegar. This is another way to serve just the tops of Swiss chard.

Boiled Chard Greens Southern Style

2 pounds of chard greens, washed well in cold water

cup butter

Dash of nutmeg and cloves

Salt and pepper. to taste

1 tablespoon lemon juice or a vinegar of choice

1 cup of coarse buttered bread crumbs

Cook chard in very little water until tender – or about 15-20 minutes. Drain. Chop if desired and season to taste with nutmeg, cloves, salt and pepper, and toss with butter. Arrange on platter and sprinkle with bread crumbs and sprinkle lemon juice or vinegar. Serve as hot as possible. Save the stalks for another meal, cooking them for 25 to 30 minutes. Season with plenty of salt and pepper, melted butter and a few fresh parsley flakes.

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