Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cool Weather Crops, Hawai'i Style

Of course it’s warm year round here, but now on some days there’s actually a nip in the air in the very early mornings here on the Big Island, which reminds me that cool weather crops are starting to develop sweeter flavor. Swiss chard is getting tastier, for example. My friend Carol likes to grow Swiss chard in a big plastic container that’s set upon one that’s turned upside down. This keeps the plants off the ground, away from snails and slugs and at a workable height.

More on cold weather crops later. Right now, a botanical conundrum.

Why is Swiss chard called Swiss? Is there such thing as Hawaiian chard?

And what is chard, exactly?

Since gratuitous slacker googling is now good for your brain, I felt justified in wasting part of a Sunday researching this heretofore superfluous plant-geek question. As it turns out, there’s more than one explanation floating around in cyberspace.

Wikipedia claims Swiss chard was named that by a 19th century seed company that wanted to distinguish it from French charde or chardon, a spinach. Swiss chard didn’t actually originate in Switzerland, but in Sicily. That’s right, it’s Sicily chard. So I guess if you were growing it in Hawai'i, you could call it Hawaiian chard, though maybe you’d have to serve it squid lu'au style to get away with it.

However, this theory just brings up more questions. Did the seed company anticipate some negative marketing issues associated with that southern Italy region? Did it therefore do some 19th century style marketing and rebrand the chard as Swiss to give it wider appeal among European tastes?

One google leads to more, and pretty soon dinner is late. Again.

Oh, and here’s also why more googling can be bad for your brain. One website claims Swiss chard is called that because the botanist who gave the plant its scientific name, Beta vulgaris Linnaeus subsp. cicla, is Swiss. Sorry, but I’d bet my meatballs that this was written by someone who flunked Botany 101. Carl Linnaeus, the famed father of modern taxonomy, Mr. Genus species himself, is Swedish.

Cool Weather Vegetables and Fruits

Snow Peas
Bell Pepper
Cole crops: broccoli, cauliflower, kale

Also, don’t forget Citrus – cool nights make better fruit.

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