Chard semantics, chard art, and chard food

My recent Swiss steak posting,”Braised short ribs with Swiss chard, and the Swiss Hotel” on the 15th, in considering Swiss chard as an ingredient in cooking, also looked at the semantics of the composite Swiss chard (it’s relational rather than predicational: Swiss chard isn’t Swiss, but instead is related to or associated with Switzerland in some way — but in what way?) and illustrated one culinary use of the plant’s leaves.

But there’s more. First, there’s more on the semantics. Swiss chard is a synonym of chard; all chard is Swiss chard. That is, the Swiss of Swiss chard isn’t restrictive, but rather appositive: not ‘chard that is related to Switzerland (in such and such a way)’, but ‘chard, which is related to Switzerland (in such and such a way)’.

Second, thanks to the striking colors of its ribs and leaves and to the complex textures of its leaves, Swiss chard is beautiful: it’s a frequent subject for artists (in paintings, water colors, and pencil drawings) and photographers, and it’s grown as an ornamental plant (like ornamental cabbage and kale — the ornamental crucifers — and some herbs, notably rosemary, thyme, and sage).

Finally, my adventures with the composite Swiss chard led me to two specific culinary uses of the plant: in the characteristic dish of Romansh-speaking Switzerland, the chard-wrapped meat dumplings capuns; and the combination of   Swiss chard with white beans (in sautés, stews, and soups) — one of the staples of my Swiss grandmother’s cooking.

Chard semantics. Ok, Swiss chard is relational rather than predicational, but what’s the association between Swiss chard and Switzerland? Chard is in fact an everyday culinary ingredient throughout Switzerland: in the German-speaking areas, the French-speaking areas, the Italian-speaking areas, and the Romansh-speaking areas. Also in the Swiss diaspora in the US. (And also in France, Bavaria, and northern Italy — all adjacent to Switzerland.) In contrast, in the UK, in Scandinavia, in the Slavic areas of Europe, in most of North America, and so on, it’s not unknown, but it’s an “exotic” vegetable (like napa, daikon, or jicama). So in the real world there’s an association between chard and Switzerland, so that the name Swiss chard makes sense.

You might have noticed that in the preceding paragraph I shifted from talking about Swiss chard to talking about just chard. That’s because Swiss chard is just another way of referring to chard, as this NOAD entry makes clear:

noun chard (also Swiss chard): a beet of a variety with broad white leaf stalks that may be prepared and eaten separately from the green parts of the leaf.

The modifier Swiss merely amplifies chard: ‘chard, which (by the way), is associated with Switzerland’. That is, Swiss is an appositive modifier, not a restrictive one. On the distinction, see my 2/8/07 Language Log posting “Droning on”, about pilotless drones and similar examples.

Chard art. A little while back, an exhibition at the Pacific Art League Palo Alto (just up Ramona St. from my house) included a very striking painting of Swiss chard leaves — at a price well beyond my means, so I took no further note of the work. But it did alert me to the fact that Swiss chard, with its striking colors and complex textures, was actualy a frequent subject for art work (in various media) and photography.

Two paintings on the Fine Art America site:

(#1) Jeelan Clark, Swiss Chard in a Vegetable Garden (link)

(#2) Steven Fleit, Swiss Chard (link)

And a photo by Hank Erdmann, one of a substantial portfolio of chard photos:

(#3) “Swiss Chard is used as an ornamental border planting in the gardens at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, DuPage County, Illinois”

A painting of Swiss chard used as a garden ornamental: Natasha Hersh, Cabbage And Swiss Chard (link):

(#4) “An intriguing planting at Wave Hill Botanical Gardens in Riverhead, NY showing how decorative vegetables can be sharing space with your ordinary flowering plants.”

Varieties of Swiss chard have been bred specifically for their colorful stalks:

(#5) “Bright Lights” hybrids (with some plain white-stalked, green-leaved chard for comparison)

Then, from the Michigan Gardening website, “The Blended Garden” by Ellen Zachos:

Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris ssp. vulgaris) is a traditional vegetable, but the ‘Bright Lights’ cultivars are pretty enough to grace any ornamental garden bed. Stems and midribs come in bright orange, yellow, red, or white, and contrast nicely with the green leaves. They have an upright growth habit, and look especially pretty clustered in groups of three to five plants. Find a sunny spot at the front or middle of your garden for this lovely edible.

(#6) “Leaf lettuces, Swiss chard, rosemary, and peppers light up this edible container just as well as its floral counterparts”

Chard food.  First, a (somewhat edited) comment by Steve Anderson on my “Braised short ribs with Swiss chard…” posting:

“Swiss chard” (French côtes de bette, German Mangloldblätter, Rumantsch Grischun [a proposed pan-dialectal standard for Romansh] urtais, Surmiran [Romansh dialect] mangold) is the crucial ingredient (as wrapper) in one of the most distinctive dishes of the Rumantsch speaking parts of Graubünden [aka Grisons], capuns. I have two cookbooks with nothing but recipes for capuns, hundreds of different variations. (link)

Capuns are meat-filled dumplings of Spätzle / Spätzli noodle dough, wrapped in chard leaves, cooked in Milchwasser (milk and water), and topped with grated cheese

(#7) Capuns mit Salsiz (capuns with sausage) from the Betty Bossi site (in German)

(On the language, its history, its structure, and its dialects, see Steve’s survey article “Romansh (Rumantsch)”, in draft here.)

Meanwhile, while looking for chard art, I chanced upon sites about dishes of white beans and swiss chard: sautées, stews, and soups, using Navy beans, Great Northern beans, or cannellini. For example, from the Flavor the Moments website on 2/28/18, a recipe for “Instant pot [crock pot, or pressure cooker] spicy white bean and chard stew”:

(#8) White bean and Swiss chard stew

The recipe uses dried Great Northern beans and Swiss chard; chopped onion, carrots, and garlic; red pepper flakes; a can of diced tomatoes; vegetable stock; and rosemary, oregano, a bay leaf, salt and pepper; with grated parmesan cheese on top. This is a vegetarian version; otherwise, you could use chicken broth and add sautéed chopped pancetta or bits of bacon. A version of this stew, with chicken stock (and sometimes bits of chicken) but without the red peppers, was one of my my Swiss grandmother’s staple dishes. (My Swiss grandparents always grew Swiss chard in their farm garden, as did my parents in our smaller backyard garden.)

Other variants of the stew use chickpeas (garbanzos) rather than white beans, or add small pasta or rice (as in minestrone), or both. They’re all delicious.

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