Eating Whole Food: When Chard Bolts

Of course I wanted big wide chard leaves with nice, fat stems. But that’s not what I saw in the garden. Instead, fine wiry stems were leaping ahead of the rest of the plant, forming little clusters that would eventually be seeds. The chard was bolting. Plants do this. Left alone, lettuces Magliette Calcio A Poco Prezzo grow into towers and the leaves grow inedible. But then they send up a spray of daisy-like flowers, which turn produce seeds that fall and make an early crop spring salad. Asparagus goes long producing toothsome spears, then suddenly starts transforming itself into a feathery seed-producing plant. This is normal.

But unless the seeds are what you want, this transformation can be dismaying. The energy that’s aimed towards reproduction means that leaves are going to be short-changed; as the stems gets longer, the leaves get smaller and are spaced further apart. Cut off the offending branch and it soon grows back. The plant is determined to reproduce itself regardless of how hard you try to make it stop.

Faced with a bed of bolting chard and no replacement plants, I snipped off an armful of thin, long stems. I wondered, as I headed to the compost, if this was not food? True, it didn’t look much like the chard you buy at the store—no big fleshy leaves, here—but why assume what filled my arms wouldn’t be tender and tasty? Mostly it was unfamiliar.

I broke off the long thin stalks, those only ¼ inch wide, for they felt tender when I pinched them. A little wider and they seemed too tough and woody. Even so, I had plenty of leaves, stems and flower clusters. Since this was rainbow chard, the stems were red, yellow and pink. I steamed them en masse for about 10 minutes; took a taste and found both stems and leaves tender. Next I chopped them roughly, tossed them with cilantro, which I love with chard, lemon olive oil, sea salt, pepper and little extra lemon juice for acid. I took a taste. It was maglie calcio poco prezzo good. And it was beautiful too, with the confetti of colored chard stems. I happily ate it for supper – just a big plate of chard. I refrigerated the remains and enjoyed them as a salad the following day. Other uses? They could have gone in a pita sandwich with tarator sauce, or into a frittata with a sprig of basil and stewed sweet onions, or in a pasta dish, with chickpeas—in short, wherever chard is normally used. There are many uses for chard in this stage. I also had enough to use the sparsely leafed stems for flower arrangements which are quite stunning, and no one can guess what on earth they are.

11 thoughts on “Eating Whole Food: When Chard Bolts

  1. Simona

    Very interesting. I kind of like to see how a plant bolts and gets its seeds out. Right now I have some mustard greens at that stage and I am following its progress.

  2. Jeff Kirby

    Just found your blog, and I’m thrilled – been using Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone for years as my go to “What do I do with way too much of this particular vegetable?” cookbook. Had to comment on this blog entry because it’s exactly what fascinates me. Thanks for the post.

  3. Deborah

    Ciao Simona!
    More and more I’m finding it fascinating to watch how plants go onto making seeds after they fruit. Carrots are spectacular the 2nd year, and kale, too. Not only that, wintered over kale seems to be a magnet for all the aphids in my garden – very convenient!

  4. Jan

    Just found your blog/post 4 1/2 years later. But thank you. Here I am in my kitchen with an armful of thin long rainbow chard stems, wondering if I can cook them or if it would be a mistake. Cheered by your account, I’ll be cooking them with enthusiasm.

    1. Deborah Madison Post author

      Has it really been that long? Wow. If you sort of prick them with your thumbnail you can tell which stems will be tender and which are really too
      hard to cook. The leaves should be good at any size, though. Good luck.

  5. NImfa segovia

    Know that you can also eat the flowers or buds of swiss chard before it turns to seed together wittiness soft stems and leaves. Swiss chards are great for soups as well. I use it in Hot and Sour soups also

  6. Pingback: Chard Flower Buds | Lopez Island Kitchen Gardens

    1. Deborah Madison Post author

      Actually, this reply is to many of you who wrote in about chard “flowers.” Actually, they are very tiny and they are blossoms, like the Kale mentioned by
      Liz Terry, above. I don’t try to eat them. The stems are long and wonderfully zany looking and I believe I said that I use them in flower arrangements. As for the leaves, that get smaller and stronger as the chard goes to seed, I eat those too. But as for flowers? Chard isn’t kale! A different family altogether.

  7. Pingback: Swiss chard flowers

  8. Liz Terry

    Just got back from East Hampton US, where the fancy delis are selling tiny bunches of kale flowers for $5 – eat your flowers people! They’re a valuable commodity – and tasty and nutritious.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *