Coon Dog Charles and Napoleon V. Quick were members of the second church I served in an Appalachian village on the Ohio River across from Kentucky. Napoleon had an odd gait which resulted from drinking bad moonshine. He hobbled, dragging his left leg at a hustling pace. Coon Dog often teased him, telling him that he looked like he had the green apple quick step.
Napoleon and Coon Dog regularly crossed the Ohio River in a skiff with their beagles on hunting expeditions. Mostly after rabbit and squirrel, they were often so successful that Napoleon canned the squirrel in mason jars. It was an odd sight, bluish purple squirrel body parts encased in mason jars, lining the window sill of his one room cabin along side his canned beets and tomatoes. Coon Dog and Napoleon ate what they killed and grew. Nothing was commercially processed.
Home-grown vegetables, particularly the leafy ones, like lettuce and Swiss chard, offer the same experience. Cool season vegetables, they’re easily grown in Flagstaff. Surprisingly, the leafy ones are often the hardiest, tolerating frost. A slothful gardener, I seldom dig in the last of my Swiss chard in the fall. Sure enough, about half of the neglected Swiss chard is up and growing in April. In addition to the pleasures of hanging out on a crisp, bright fall day with a glass of Chardonnay and some tasties, sloth offers the rewards of early vegetables.
Appetites are whetted as much by our noses and eyes as they are by our tongues. A wise chef grows beautiful and colorful vegetables. Beginning with lettuce, there are many colorful varieties. Three of the most charming are Lollo Rosso, Forellenschluss, and black seeded Simpson. They make a great salad with the slightly bitter, nutty flavor of the dark red Lollo Rosso, the smooth buttery flavor of the speckled, maroon spotted Forellenschluss, and the tender sweetness of crinkly, bright green leaves of the heirloom black seeded Simpson. With a complex of colors, textures, and flavors, these lettuces make for a splendid salad. They also offer a cosmopolitan touch with the Italian Lollo Rosso, the Austrian Forellenschluss, and the American black seeded Simpson, first introduced in Brooklyn over a hundred years ago by a Mr. Simpson.
The Lollo Rosso and the black seeded Simpson are loose leaf. Also, the Forellenschluss which means the speckled back of a trout is a romaine or cos type of lettuce. Cos is the Greek island in the Mediterranean and the original home of romaine lettuces. Since all three never head, they can be picked regularly.
The seeds are best planted only ¼ of an inch deep in nutritious, friable soil. They can be planted throughout the growing season into late summer. The soil should be kept moist but not wet with regularly light watering.
Much of what can be said of lettuce can be said of Swiss chard which comes in many textures and colors, too. The basic color is a light green with many cultivars in various colors, such as Vulcan. It is considered the second most nutritious vegetable after spinach.
A member of the beet family, its seeds look like beet seeds which resemble Grape-Nuts. They should be planted ½ to ¾ inches deep in nutritious well-composted soil which should be kept moist but not dripping wet.
Swiss chard comes in three types, the white stemmed, the colorful (red, pink, yellow, orange, and mixed), and the perpetual or perpetual spinach. Swiss chard is grown exclusively for the leaves, the puny roots being inedible, but the leaves are wonderful. They are broad and can be used in a variety of ways. They add color, texture, and nutrition to soups and stews. An egg plant and Swiss chard lasagna is a delight as is a frittata with eggs, cheese, and Swiss chard. Since their leaves are a bit studier than lettuce, they do well as wraps.
While one may not savor canned squirrel, lettuce and Swiss chard are delights to the eye and tongue. What’s more, they’re easily grown in the high country, keeping us in touch with the earth and our origins.
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2012
Dana Prom Smith edits Gardening Etcetera, blogs at http://highcountrygardening.blogspot.com, and emails at firstname.lastname@example.org.