Chard isn’t from Switzerland; the misnomer came into play when growers were trying to distinguish it from French spinach varieties, because it was also known as perpetual spinach. It’s actually most closely related to beets. Old seed catalogs called it silverbeet.
One of the easiest vegetables to grow, it takes up very little garden space and does well in containers as well as open ground. You can keep chard going for quite a long time if you cut it back regularly. Although it will freeze to the ground in severe weather, it will often regrow from the roots. I’ve had it come back after the thermometer hit the low teens. You don’t need a lot of it, because you can harvest a few leaves at a time. It’s also easy to save seeds – just let it winter over and send up the big central seed stalk. It’s wind-pollinated, but in my experience, it usually grows true. Might be because fewer people grow it than the more common wind-pollinated veggies like corn.
Since it contains oxalic acid, it’s better eaten cooked rather than raw. Although deer seem to prefer it in its natural state; whenever deer manage to get in my garden, the first place they go is to the chard patch. Some people treat the stems and leaves as different vegetables, cooking and serving the stems like asparagus and the leaves as a green. I find it works just as well to slice the leaves off the stems and chop the stems like celery. When the leaves are about half-cooked, stir in the leaves. You can freeze it, but I figure why bother when you can just wander out to the garden and get some fresh?
Chard comes in a variety of colors, which might make for pretty in the garden, but I don’t think the colored versions have very good flavor compared to these, and these are also more productive:
- Lucullus – has been around since about 1890. Named after a Roman general – don’t ask me why, although the general apparently liked to put on a good spread and had a reputation as a gourmand. This chard has a very good flavor and the leaves are usually tender, especially if harvested small.
- Fordhook Giant – another one with good flavor. Introduced in 1934. Fordhook Farm, by the way, was the weekend residence of seed magnate W. Atlas Burpee beginning in 1888. It was the first experimental seed and production site for the Burpee Seed company and educated many an agricultural student. Its roots go back at least to the late 1700s, however, and the main house was listed in the tax register of 1798. Whenever you see in Fordhook in a seed name, you can thank old W. Atlee and his crew.
If I could only have one, I think either of these is a good choice and I frankly can’t see much difference between them. Fordhook might be a little more productive.