28 April 2019

Spinach or chard?

The plant we call Swiss chard in America is called silver beet in Australia. It's true that chard is the plant called Beta vulgaris, which is a family of beet varieties. Chard has beet leaves but no beet root — at least not one that we eat.

I just learned this morning that in British English chard is, or maybe used to be, called "spinach." Sometimes "perpetual spinach." It's a plant with complicated naming conventions in France too — in my experience, most people call chard by the name blettes. Purists, and some dictionaries, including the Larousse Gastronomique food encyclopedia, seem to prefer the term bettes, without the L, even though the Académie Française recognized the form blette as early as 1798 and again in 1835.

As for cooking, some people cook chard leaves whole, including the green part of the leaves as well has the thick, fleshy leaf ribs. Cooked, the green parts do resemble cooked spinach, but with a milder flavor. They're good cooked with some crème fraîche with a spoonful of moutarde de Dijon added. Or with olive oil and garlic. In France, people often cook the white chard ribs separately, either in butter, olive oil, or meat jus. They're also good au gratin, with béchamel sauce, cream, and/or melted cheese.

I'll be putting some chard leaves from the 2019 blette plants into a zucchini lasagna for today's lunch, with sausage meat, mushrooms, and tomato sauce. Chard leaves and/or ribs are also good baked in a tart or a quiche, or as as a filling for an omelet. This years springtime weather seems to have made the chard plants I planted last year happy and healthy — they survived our admittedly mild winter out in the garden plot just fine.


  1. I grew up in Australia calling it spinach. It wasn't until I was in my 20s and cooking recipes like the Greek spanakopita that I saw what was then called "English spinach"

    Now with a wider selection of international fruit and vegetables at most stores, spinach and silver beet are clearly distinguished. It wasn't till recently that I had to connect silver beet and swiss chard, thanks to my diving into many of Yottam Ottolenghi's recipes (e.g. https://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/wheat-berries-with-swiss-chard-and-pomegranate-molass taken from his Jerusalem book)

    1. My family in North Carolina didn't eat spinach, and I don't think I had ever even heard of Swiss chard until I starting spending time in France. We ate collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, etc. but not spinach.

      Your "English spinach" reminds me that in N.C. we always distinguished "English" peas from black-eyed peas, crowder peas, field peas, and pea beans (all actually beans). English peas were what are called petits pois in France. And "Irish" potatoes were called that to distinguish them from sweet potatoes, which we ate at least as often.

    2. By the way, I can't get the geniuskitchen.com here in France. I just get a notification that the site is not available "in my country" when I try to call it up.

  2. I should add as well that I've learnt to dice the chard stems and use them like onion or celery earlier in the preparation of a dish, and then adding the leaves later.

  3. Spinach is a totally different plant to perpetual spinach...
    in all my years UK gardening, I have never heard of the two not being different things.
    I think that some people equate the two because perpetual spinach has very tough leafstems... like spinach....
    My mother used to grow perpetual spinach because my father prefered "the more delicate flavour".... viz: it was as bland as a whitewashed wall!!
    I refused to touch the stuff... proper chard has more flavour.... but my mother used to buy frozen spinach bullets for me!!

    Here we grow Fordhook Giant, which I believe is an American Variety??... very wide stems, sometimes 3" across for a good length of the leaf... and both the leaf and stem have good flavour.
    Need to cut ours down and move it... yes, all chards are perpetual if allowed!
    But you must make sure it doesn't flower....
    We also grow Rainbow Chard... a plateful of the steamed stems, dressed with walnut oil and balsamic vinegar is a tasty, colourful starter! Have you tried it Ken?

    1. I had never heard of "perpetual spinach" but I've googled it and I see that there is a company in Missouri that sells the seeds (not that you want any, but I think I do). I'd like to try it. Customer comments on that site are very positive about its growing habits and the taste of the leaves.

      The chard we grow is Poirée blonde à côtes blanches — some of the leaves are almost yellow, while some are dark green. Where do you get Fordhook seeds?

      I like chard and spinach, and I use a lot of frozen spinach here. I like that it is frozen in small blocks because it's easy to cook just the quantity you need or want.

      Somebody who lives in the U.K. once gave us some Rainbow Chard seeds. We tried to grow it but it was a failure. I've seen it mostly as an ornamental plant in the U.S., and it is pretty when it grows well.

    2. Pauline starts the chard in modules... this is especially useful for Rainbow because they show their colours early.
      As for Fordhook Giant, I'll as the oracle in the morning [she's gone up ahead of me!]

    3. Oracle still not up.... nipped into office and looked in her drawers.
      We don't need to buy any for a while... packets from:
      Kings Seeds,
      Chiltern Seeds,
      Real Seed Co,
      Thompson & Morgan....
      I think I need to look at the dates on these...
      but chard seed keeps very well.
      And yes, it is American bred... I found this:
      Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard (B. Vulgaris) 60 days.
      Introduced in 1924 by W. Atlee Burpee; large green leaves and white stems. Tasty.

  4. Added to the above, here in England spinach and perpetual spinach are not only different from each other, but also from chard. In my experience, the latter has thicker stems (can be white or multicoloured) and it is also slower to run to seed. I grow chard each year, but have never had any joy with perpetual spinach!

    1. Helen, perpetual spinach is a variety of chard... just the worst one! You are very fortunate you didn't have any luck growing the ghastly stuff... it would have put you off growing the really tasty chard!!
      Well, it did me, anyway... for about 15 years!!

    2. I might have to order some seeds and try perpetual spinach. It's funny — when a French woman who lives in our village saw my "collard patch" — collard greens I had planted, she said she would call those chou perpétuel — perpetual cabbage. They are said to be the ancestor of all the different cabbage varieties we grow nowadays.

  5. I never encountered chard/silver beet in Australia until we moved to Queensland, and I knew it as silver beet. I prefer it to what was known in Australia as English spinach, as Mike has said. It's too hot in much of Australia to successfully grow spinach, but chard will do well. I'm a leaf eater and will chuck the stems in the compost -- to the horror of my organic market gardener friends that I buy it off. We now have a neat arrangement where I just take leaves and the stems are left for a customer who just eats the stems. The stems are watery and flavourless, just an excuse to eat cheese sauce in my opinion. And I call the vegetable chard these days, a hang over from having lived in England.

    1. I chop up the chard ribs and put them into soups. Good fiber. They are also good in gratins, but they don't have a lot of flavor. People are funny about greens. Some who love collard greens are put off by kale, for example. I love them all. I feel virtuous eating them.

    2. I take back what I said about the tastelessness of chard ribs. I just steamed some, with no seasonings, and they are delicious. Un petit goût de noisettes, as they always say in France.

  6. At home, when I was a boy, we used to have blettes every so often cooked in a white sauce -- sauce blanche or béchamel--and we called them, blettes, bettes ou bettes-cardes. This website, papillesestomaquees.fr, gives several other names. I have heard poirée, but didn't know what it was refering to.

    Also, we used to eat tétragone which, we thought, was some kind of spinach. I don't have time to make some research, leaving tomorrow, but it seems to be from New Zealand or such.

    1. Tétragone seems to be called "summer spinach" though the plant is not in the same family as spinach. I'd never heard of it before you mentioned it. And yes, it comes from New Zealand (and also China, Japan...). Hope you have an easy trip and a good arrival.

  7. I never knew chard was related to beets, but maybe that explains red chard?


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