Gardening Articles: Health :: Cooking

Better Swiss Chard (page 3 of 3)

by Sydney Penner

Harvest Tips

Swiss chard requires only 45 to 55 days to mature, but you can harvest the baby leaves anytime. Either cut entire young plants just above the soil for salad greens, or cut off tender leaves once they reach the size you prefer. Use broader leaves in recipes that call for mature stalks, whole young leaves for salads.

Leaves left on too long will yellow and toughen, but these can be broken off and placed around the plant as mulch. To lengthen the harvest season, allow some plants to grow large in late summer. Thereafter, harvest from the center while preserving the growing point, and leave the large, older leaves to help protect the tender young leaves from frost. Remove any flower stalks to prolong the harvest. Swiss chard is actually a biennial and will flower after a period of exposure to the cold.

For the record, there's nothing particularly Swiss about Swiss chard. In fact, it's been grown in Europe since classical antiquity. Ancient Greeks and Romans used chard leaves as a wrapping for baked eel. But how do modern Swiss cooks prepare it? They stuff mature chard leaves with a meat or vegetable filling and bake it in a creamy sauce to make capuns. Alpine villagers combine chard stalks with buckwheat noodles, potatoes, green beans, and Gruyere cheese to create pizzoccheri, a hearty gratin.

However you prepare Swiss chard, the leaves are an excellent substitute for spinach during the hot months, and the stems may be used like asparagus. Baby chard can be cooked whole, but the stalks and leaves are usually cooked separately. Lengthy cooking dulls the colors, so light cooking is preferable, particularly for brightly colored varieties. Swiss chard is an excellent source of vitamins A and C and a good source of iron and fiber.

Syndey Penner gardens and writes in Berwick, Nova Scotia.

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