Sunday, July 19, 2015

Swift Charge

I've had the opportunity and pleasure lately to read through some of my family's World War II letters, which offer plenty in the way of (censored but inferred) exciting naval combat and accounts of life in wartime all over the globe, but also plenty of home-front news, including the production and preservation of vegetables from Victory Gardens. There isn't much detail about varieties and so forth (though I was thrilled to see New Zealand spinach mentioned casually in passing), but some experiences are universal, such as my great-aunt asking passersby if maybe they wouldn't care to take home a summer squash or two, and the following paragraph (dated July 7, 1943):
News from the home front is, as usual, rather sketchy. We have had a beautiful, soaking rain this week and the garden has responded in a big way. Yesterday Bar got home from Nahant and no sooner had the train grime washed off than she was up there getting our vegetables for dinner – tiny, tender string beans, Swift Charge, and lettuce – yum, yum. Sunday morning, very early, the phone rang and in a voice suggestive of house-on-fire, Kilday said, “Come at once, the rabbit is eating the soy beans”, so Dad shouldered his gun, and feeling as if he were about to take candy from Children, went up and bagged one bunny – we hope it will discourage all the others. He says he is going to send Unk to college to learn Rabbit, so that we can put up a sign and give them fair warning. He who eats of these beans, dies – or something like that.
 We were having pretty much that discussion in the demo garden last week (minus the firearms).

Careful readers will note the "Swift Charge" above, which I am assuming is a private joke for Swiss Chard. I don't know what type they grew, but the rainbow of colors is not new to this century, so it might have been red or yellow or green or something else. I've always loved having chard in my garden because it's so pretty - but sometimes, like this year, I accidentally overplant, and need to deal with a very vigorous crop indeed. Chard can be started in the cool weather of April and will continue to produce through summer and into fall in many years. I've been cutting the outer leaves from my plants regularly, steaming and freezing them for later use, and we happily replace kale and other now-vanished greens with chard in our usual sautés. Chard several times a week is a bit of a challenge, though, so I'm always looking for recipes. Here are several (with a clickbait title, but the ideas look good).

Chard is a member of the amaranth family; it's the same species as beets, just a subspecies developed for tender leaves rather than delicious roots (though beet leaves are also very edible). Spinach is another member of the clan, and many spinach recipes can be adapted for chard, as can many recipes including the non-related brassica greens.

Don't forget about the stems when you prepare your chard - they are crunchy and tasty and, with a rainbow mix, can be very colorful:


I usually separate the stems from the leaves, since the latter will cook a lot faster.


Try sautéing the stems along with chopped onions for a good ten minutes in some butter or olive oil, before adding the sliced leaves, which need only be cooked enough to thoroughly wilt. Flavor with salt and pepper, and lemon juice or a nice vinegar. (I've made two infused vinegars so far this year - white wine vinegar with chive blossoms, and balsamic vinegar with black raspberries. Both work very well with chard.)

The two secrets for cooking chard, as far as I'm concerned, are a) don't overcook, and b) counter the solid earthy flavor with something sour, bitter, or spicy. I've been combining the chard with bitter dandelion greens - these fancy Italiko Rosso ones:


though I'm sure ordinary lawn ones would do (might be too strongly bitter at this time of year, though).

Enjoy your Swift Charge in the garden, and charge right through dinner made with it too!

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