Gardens: growing for greens
It appears, if one reads history, that home gardening gains popularity during war and/or economic hard times. Think “Victory Gardens” during both World Wars and the self-sufficiency movement during the Vietnam conflict.
Consider President Gerald Ford’s “Whip Inflation Now (WIN) campaign of the late 1970s and the current push to grow food during our current recession. Granted, today’s enticement for home gardening involves more than saving money. There is rampant obesity from eating high-fat, high-calorie fast foods, the controversial “greenhouse” effect from over production and materialism and, for some, a longing for a calmer existence; all of the which makes those of us residing in rural areas, where gardening is simply a fact of life, appreciate our traditions.
In my small Colorado town, gardening is common in many yards each summer despite our short growing season, which runs from near the end of May until late October. Moving to the High Plains with its sandy soil from the hard, clay flatlands of Kansas meant learning to garden all over again, but after nearly 27 years, I now manage to grow enough summer treats to fill my belly and store some for winter. My garden, however, is small compared to those of many of my neighbors.
The thing about gardening is that it seems a hard habit to break. Many rural residents start tossing seeds and plants into the ground while raising children. The problem is, children leave home but the gardening bug stays. Thus you have older couples like my neighbors who continue to plant huge gardens that produce much more than they can eat, especially in the greens department, which means letting them go to waste or sharing the bounty.
Luckily for me, my neighbors love sharing as much as they like growing and eating. That means a steady supply of lettuce and spinach, which makes me very happy since my small garden consists of things like zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and eggplant.
During a recent picking visit, my neighbor pointed out a leafy plant, saying this was the first time she grew Swiss Chard and did not know what to do with it. I had heard of Swiss chard, but it is not one of the vegetables our small grocery store carries. I’m nothing if not adventurous, though, when it comes to trying new foods. I offered to take some of it (big of me don’t you think) and look on the Internet for a way to fix it.
Here is where I must recommend allrecipes.com, which I think is the best Website ever for any cook, but especially the single cook. Not only is the site chucked full of recipes, but it contains a tool to recalculate recipes for smaller or larger numbers of servings.
During my search for Swiss chard I found several recipes, one of which I decided to try with a few adjustments. For instance, I substituted ham for bacon, replaced one tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon of olive oil, added sliced scallions and lowered the amount of lemon juice from three tablespoons to one. Three made the dish a bit too lemony for me, but feel free to add more lemon juice if you like. The recipe indicated two servings as a side dish, but I left the amounts the same and made it a one-skillet meal for one. Here is my version of “Pan Fried Swiss Chard” based on the one found on allrecipes.com.
Fried Swiss chard
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 4-ounce slice of cooked ham, cubed.
2-3 Scallions, sliced with some green included
1 Garlic clove, minced
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
4-5 Cups Swiss chard cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat; add scallions and sauté until soft, 2 minutes.
2. Add ham and sauté 2-3 minutes; add garlic and sauté 1 minute longer.
3. Add butter and lemon juice. As soon as butter melts, stir in Swiss chard. Toss until leaves begin to wilt then cover and allow to steam 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.