Saturday, September 08, 2012 • 7:31 PM Comments ()

Beet history

posted by Caleb Rounds

Swiss chard may have been the first plant I grew successfully. I lived in Austin, TX at the time and had started a garden because it seemed like the thing to do. After almost two decades of growing vegetables I look back on my ignorance then and think, “I sure looked a lot younger damnit.” But growing plants was mysterious business.
I bought garden books written by hippies and talked to two friends who knew more than I did. They were both scientists and oozed confidence. At the time I was preparing to be an English teacher. Now I’m a scientist too and I wonder what I ooze; I bet it’s not confidence. Eww.
Each year about the time that the spinach gives up, the chard takes over. From April to sometime in October we get enough iron. After that we just get paler and paler until spring. Swiss chard has always just grown like a champ for me. I seldom need to plant more than 6 row feet to get all the chard the boss and I can possibly eat, and we do eat a lot of chard, thought the indigent boarders won’t touch the stuff . This year has been no exception, we stir fry some garlic and chard just about every night. It seems to go well on top of just about everything. We cut the stem out and chop it up like celery and throw that in with the garlic and oil before the leaves. Add a little soy sauce or magic sriracha, and that’s some damned fine eating Tex.
Apparently it is referred to as “Swiss” chard because in certain French seed catalogs in the early twentieth century they wished to distinguish between this vegetable and “French” spinach. Seems like “chard” and “spinach” would do just fine, but the French can be a bit touchy about language.
Chard is in the same species as beets, sugar beets and the wild beet. People just selected it for its leaves. This happened years ago. One thing makes all of them unusual. The “seed” you plant is actually a dried fruit containing more than one seed. With beets it is always necessary to thin because almost every fruit gives rise to more than one seedling. With chard I’ve found this to be less of a problem. What is amazing though is how well they produce. I’ve harvested continually all summer and it shows no sign of giving up.
Last year I decided to expand my exploration of the Beta vulgaris species by planting beets. I have bad beet history. My mother loved beets and insisted that we eat them. She tended to prepare them in the “Harvard” style. That is with vinegar, sugar, butter and pre-cooked beets. As a child I felt these had the consistency of high end shoe-leather without the taste. Along with mushrooms and a dish my mother called “tuna dump,” I refused to eat them.
My parents aren’t exactly “laissez-faire” type parents. More “faire as I say”. At some point in my middle school years the beet conflict came to a head. My father insisted that I eat the beets. I told him that I felt the added butter and sugar had substantially reduced the nutritional value of said beet and questioned his parental intentions -- or something along those lines. He stood with beet speared on fork. Before he could make it around the table past my teeming siblings I was out the door. I had him for one lap, but he had me in the straight aways back then. He got me as I was about to lose him beside the Swenson’s house. He pinned me to the ground and fed me the beet.
In case you were wondering it was gross.

Swiss chard may have been the first plant I grew successfully. I lived in Austin, TX at the time and had started a garden because it seemed like the thing to do. After almost two decades of growing vegetables I look back on my ignorance then and think, “I sure looked a lot younger damnit.” Growing plants was mysterious business.

I got bad advice from garden books written by hippies and good advice from two friends who knew more than I did. They were both scientists and oozed confidence. At the time I was preparing to be an English teacher. Now I’m a scientist too and I wonder what I ooze; I bet it’s not confidence. Eww.

Swiss chard has always just grown like a champ for me. I’ve harvested continually all summer and it shows no sign of giving up. I seldom need to plant more than 6 row feet to get all the chard the boss and I can possibly eat, and we do eat a lot of chard, thought the indigent boarders won’t touch the stuff . This year has been no exception, we stir fry some garlic and chard most nights. It seems to go well on top of everything. We cut the stem out and chop it up like celery and throw that in with the garlic and oil before the leaves. Add a little soy sauce or magic sriracha, and that’s some damned fine eating Tex.

Chard is in the same species as beets, sugar beets and the wild beet. People just selected it for its leaves. This happened years ago. One thing makes all of them unusual. The “seed” you plant is actually a dried fruit containing more than one seed. With beets it is always necessary to thin because almost every fruit gives rise to more than one seedling. With chard I’ve found this to be less of a problem.

Last year I decided to expand my exploration of the Beta vulgaris species by planting beets. I have bad beet history. My mother loved beets and insisted that we eat them. She tended to prepare them in the “Harvard” style. That is with vinegar, sugar, butter and canned beets. As a child I felt these had the consistency of high end shoe-leather without the taste. Along with mushrooms and a dish my mother called “tuna dump,” I refused to eat them.

My parents didn't believe in “laissez-faire" child rearing. More “faire as I say”. At some point in my middle school years the beet conflict came to a head. My father insisted that I eat the beets. I told him that I felt the added butter and sugar had substantially reduced the nutritional value of said beet and questioned his parental intentions -- or something along those lines. He stood with beet speared on fork. Before he could make it around the table past my teeming siblings I was out the door. I had him for one lap, but he had me in the straight aways back then. He got me as I was about to lose him beside the Swenson’s house. He pinned me to the ground and fed me the beet. It was gross.

Reintroduction was a slow process. I started with yellow beets, but now have converted to red ones.I chop them up in salads or roast them. I'm finding that, like chard, they go good in almost everything. It is possible that what I really objected to was the "Harvard" monicker. There's too much disonance: the self satisfied "Harvard" and the earthy "beet."

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