07 June 2009

Bettes... or is that blettes?

Bettes are also called blettes. I don't know why there are two spellings. In French, they're also called poirée, and there are other local names for them. In English, they're Swiss chard. Or silverbeet. They aren't Swiss at all evidently, and have been grown and eaten along the Mediterranean coast since Roman times.

As I've said, we are growing chard this spring. It's been very successful. Walt planted a lot of seeds under a cold frame (une mini-serre) back in March or April. They grew well, and at one point I thinned them. I pulled 12 or 18 plants and transplanted them into a row in the plot where I've also planted collard greens and mustard greens.

A bucketful of chard I picked yesterday morning

Since then, I've thinned those original blette plants twice more. We ate a batch of them 10 days ago, and yesterday I pulled out about 4 lbs. of the big green leaves with their white ribs. Now the remaining plants have room to grow, and the leaves will get even bigger.

Meanwhile, the little plantlings that I uprooted and transplanted in a row after the first thinning are also doing great and those leaves are getting big too. Luckily, we have a freezer. I can cook the leaves and stems and freeze batches of chard for the winter. Since most recipes call for blanching or cooking the chard first in boiling water, we'll be able to use the leaves and stems in a lot of different ways.

I washed the chard at least 6 times
to make sure all the sand and bugs were gone.

Speaking of leaves and stems, in France people sometimes cook them separately. When you have really big chard leaves — bigger than the ones we have at this point — you pull the green leaves off the ribs and cook the leaves like spinach, which is a related green.

Then you cut the chard ribs, called les côtes or cardes, into inch-long sections, de-string them if they are stringy, and cook them in boiling water. Cooked, you put them in a baking dish and cover them with grated cheese. Then you put the dish in the oven and let the top brown so you end un with what is called un gratin. That would be chard ribs au gratin.

The greens plot in the garden: from l. to r., a row of chard,
two rows of collards, and one row of mustard greens.
Those are sunflowers in the back.

A lot of French recipes nowadays call for chopping up whole chard leaves and cooking the green parts right in with the white ribs. That's what I've been doing so far, because the leaves are still young and tender. I cook collard and mustard greens the same way, and soon it will be time to start thinning those rows of greens. We'll cook and eat the tender young plants we pull out and then let the remaining plants grow big.

Other than eating chard as a green leafy vegetable like spinach or other greens, cooking it au gratin, or chopping up the leaves to put in soup, what can you do with it? In Nice and other places, people make a tarte aux blettes — a Swiss chard pie. That's what we are going to do with the chard I picked and cooked yesterday.


There are two kinds of tarts made with chard. The most straightforward is a kind of quiche, and that's what we're planning to do. The ingredients are a pie shell, eggs, cream, cooked chard, bacon (a.k.a. lardons), and grated cheese.

The other kind is a sweet dessert tart with chard, eggs, raisins, pine nuts, sliced apple, sugar, and grated cheese. Sounds interesting, doesn't it? We are going to save that for another day. We have plenty of chard growing in the garden so there will be time to make that tart and many other preparations involving blettes this summer.

Look at this list I just found on a Web page:
  • Aillade de blettes aux anchois
  • Blettes à la sauce mornay
  • Blette à la saucisse
  • Blettes à la tomate
  • Blettes au citron
  • Blettes au gratin
  • Blettes au thon
  • Blettes aux herbes
  • Blettes sauce mousseuse
  • Chaussons aux feuilles de blettes
  • Côtes de blettes au four
  • Côtes de blettes au gratin
  • Côtes de blettes au lard
  • Feuilles de blettes à la poêle
  • Feuilles de blettes farcies
  • Feuilles de blette farcies à la viande
  • Gratin de côtes de blettes
  • Hachis poitevine
  • Lasagnes de thon à l'huile
  • Pounti
  • Reste de feuilles de blettes
  • Salade aux trois legumes
  • Tian de feuilles de blettes
  • Tourte aux blettes
  • Tourtes de feuilles de blettes
  • Salade aux trois légumes


  1. We have sowed bettes too. I discussed the name with our farmer neighbour and he calls them bettes. They are a great all-rounder I believe, over-wintering well, and taking the heat without bolting. They are grown in Queensland where my parents live because it is too hot for spinach. The leaves are cooked with the ribs there, and it wasn't until I moved to England that I heard of cooking the ribs separately. In England I think almost everyone treats the leaves and the ribs as two separate vegetables.

  2. I do a very easy Goat cheese & baby spinach omlette, the cheese is plain and soft and the baby spinach could be substituted with baby chard.
    Wilt 2 big handfulls of the small leaves (2"without stems or 3"with )in a small amount of butter then add the beaten eggs and some garlic if you want, when the omlette is almost cooked add small dollops of the cheese. Then just fold over when you think it is ready and serve, I put some chilli jam on top of mine last night, just for a change.....yum

  3. I think blette might be the southern name. In other words, I think bettes and blettes might be regional terms, but nowhere have I found an explanation. Anyway, I prefer to call them blettes because the other name sounds, well, bête to me.

  4. We called them blettes in my family too and actually I have never heard anyone calling them "bettes". Here in the US I have only cooked the leaves but I remember eating only the ribs growing up in France. Your garden looks beautiful and I am very impressed you are growing black eyed peas and okra. Very often I bring a 4 lbs bags of "petits pois aux yeux noirs" to France.
    Ken if you go on William Sonoma's website (or "sur la table"), they have new barbecue items. Of course I am bringing "meatball grill basket", "vertical chicken roaster", "mesh roasting pan"... as gifts and also an ebleskivers pan. I can spend so much money in these stores. Coming back, my suitcases will be filled with "Le Creuset" "Staub" and "Emile Henri" pots... Too bad I am only aloud to 100 pounds (for the 2 of us).

  5. Bonjour Nadège,

    Okay, so blette isn't necessarily a southern French term. You are talking about using the word blette in Decize, non?

    I can buy black-eyed peas in the supermarket here in Saint-Aignan most of the time now. They are imported from Portugal. I can always find them at the Paris Store Asian supermarket in Blois. So do people in your family in France really like black-eyed peas?

  6. I love chard. Our farmer's market has the green and another kind with green and red leaves--same delicious taste but more colorful.

  7. Ken, Try using them to papillotte some white fish...maybe sea bass or whatever. Loose the stalks, wrap the fish in a few leaves then into a foil envelope with plenty of room to breathe plus of course some suitable local white wine, herbs of your choosing, maybe even a little fresh red chilli and bake for 15 or 20 mins.

  8. You know I've never eaten this, I must look out for it.

    I like the idea of a quich,


  9. Yes in "La Nievre" (close to Le Cher), they say blette.
    I haven't been back to France in 3 years so I am happy to know they are selling black eye peas now.
    Another question : do they sell popcorn in France (as in microwave popcorn)? One year I brought back Kernels of corn (Burpee seeds) so my sister could experience fresh corn. They didn't plant them because they were afraid they were genetically altered. They don't know what they are missing. The few times I found fresh corn, it was never that fresh. Maybe it is better now.

  10. Gabby, we are going to have a ton of chard, collards, and mustard greens. A full freezer.

    NickL, that's a great idea about fish papillottes made with chard leaves. We will definitely do that.

    Nadège, no, corn here is not the right kind. It's feed corn, not sweet corn. That is why we hope ours will produce a few ears this summer.

    I've also never seen microwave popcorn in our supermarkets here. We can buy regular popcorn though, the kind you cook in a pot or in the microwave with oil.

    People here are so afraid of organismes génétiquement modifiés — les OGMs. Maybe they are right to be. Just as people don't want American beef with all the growth hormones in it.

  11. I have a house in Gard. The blette there is miserable stuff. Large, wide stem and hardly any leaf. Also pretty tasteless. Love to know why you cannot buy the various kinds of kale there. You certainly can in Italy, UK, USA. Same poor choice in my small town or the market in the center of Avignon!


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