As it was my first time growing you this summer, you have humbled me with your presence in my backyard. And my experience with you has been nothing short of amazing.
Back when I went to Home Depot to pick out what to grow in my new box garden, I knew I was going to get tomatoes and herbs. I also picked up some healthy-looking string beans and red bell pepper plants. Inadvertently, I saw in the corner of my eye a small container of four Swiss chard plants. They were the only ones left on the shelf.
I had only ever eaten Swiss chard once, years ago, in some fancy downtown restaurant known for its comfort food cooking (I know, the irony). Among some traditional dishes such as mac and cheese and pot roast, we ordered Swiss chard for some greens. It was delicious. I never bought or cooked any myself since then, just because I'm not familiar with the vegetable, but when I spotted this last ready-to-grow pot, I snatched it up right away because of the fond memory from that restaurant. Boy, was it a great choice!
As the tiny four plants--no more than 4 inches tall each--began to grow, I noticed that the stalks all had different colors: white, yellow, orange, and red. These colors were fabulous, but the veins of the leaves were even more stunning. Spreading out like branches into the leaves, the smooth colorful veins contrasted the wrinkly, green of the leaves. Never have I thought something so wrinkled could be so beautiful. After rain, water beads on the glossy leaves, and you can almost taste the tenderness of the leaves just by looking at them.
I read that the leaves are ready for harvest once they reach about 18 inches in height. With much anticipation, I waited and waited until they were ready, and went to snip off the long, lustrous leaves. Baby leaves were starting to sprout by the base of the plants, and these lighter-colored young leaves just kept coming up. The mature leaves were dark green, shiny, and full of luster. Each leaf was just about as perfect as can be.
I decided to saute my first batch of Swiss chard with garlic, onions, and tomatoes with a little olive oil. The chard is earthy in taste, very similar to spinach, but more refined, substantial, and buttery. I am a dark green leafy kind of person, so this suited me just superbly. Dear Husband liked it, too, but the kiddos are still weary of green foods. Dear Daughter at least tasted it and had a few bites. I'm trying to get her used to more pungent leafy vegetables, so this was a good first step. Dear Son? Not so much.
Believe it or not, every week or so, the chard plants yielded me a harvest enough for a saute. Sometimes I would substitute red onions for white, and sometimes I'd do without the tomatoes or the onions, but they all turned out well. I did decide to only cut up the leaves and forgo the stems since they were harder to chew than celery stalks. But the leaves were always consistent in taste and texture.
I'm about to harvest my fifth batch of chard tomorrow. I'm about to consume the next of five dishes of healthy, nutritious, green vegetables straight from my own backyard. And the baby leaves are still popping up! At this rate, I think they'll continue to grow until the temperature slows them down and no longer sustain their growth. Nutritionally, Swiss chard is rich in vitamins A, K, and C, as well as abundant in minerals, dietary fiber and proteins, and super low in calories. It can be eaten raw--slightly bitter in taste--in salads, or cooked, which smooths out its flavor. I shall be researching for some different ways to cook Swiss chard soon!
Of all the vegetables in my box garden, the chard was most sensitive to dehydration or extreme heat. So for the sake of my beloved chard, I watered the backyard tirelessly to keep them hydrated. In past years, I would start off gardening season with lots of ambition and grand plans, but by the middle of summer, sluggishness takes over and my plants dry out. But this year, since the box garden is for food consumption, it has kept my lazy bum continuing to go out in the extreme heat to water the vegetables--making me quite proud of myself.
I hope you enjoy this slideshow:
So, Dear Swiss-Chard-From-My-Backyard, you've not only been my continual source of dark, green leafy vegetable this summer, you've even taught me a thing or two about persistence in nurturing my garden. You've also enlightened me in ways that I never expected--in your beauty, growth, and flavor. And now I wonder which leafy vegetable shall be your neighbor next year? Because you are a keeper for sure!