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Swiss Chard

Swiss chard is one of the most beautiful and, at the same time, one of the most misunderstood plants in Robbins Farm Garden.

Chard gets its beauty from its brilliantly colored stalks and veins and its deep green lacquered leaves.

The misunderstandings about chard fall into three categories:

First, some people, when they first see chard, wonder whether it's a real, live plant or just some shiny wood or ceramic knickknack. They're wrong to wonder that. Chard is very much alive.

Second, many who do know it's a real, live plant still think it comes from Switzerland. But that's wrong, too.

Third, many think chard is just an underdeveloped beet. They call it the "beetless beet." That's also wrong.

Let's start with where chard comes from.

Deceptive advertising

It's understandable when people think Swiss chard comes originally from Switzerland. It is, after all, called Swiss chard.

But chard has been around for thousands of years, and it's only in the last 150 years that it's been called "Swiss." The "Swiss" in Swiss chard is a form of something called "puffery," a mild (and some claim, "harmless") form of deception often used in the advertising of fairly generic products and services.

The Swiss chard puff originated in Europe in the mid 1800's. It followed close on the heels of the French spinach puff, which itself faded into history, but left in its wake the Chard puff that has endured.

Back then, companies were selling vegetable seeds through catalogs, much as seed companies continue to do today. Some clever person decided they might be able to add a little flair to their spinach seeds and win more sales if they called their product French Spinach rather than just plain old "spinach" spinach.

( By the way, spinach did not get its start in France. As best we can tell, it got its start in Iran thousands of years ago. )

In any case, calling spinach "French Spinach" boosted sales for its seeds a lot. So some people then thought "Well, maybe we should call chard 'Swiss Chard' and see whether we can get more sales there, too." It worked. Dopey things like this sometimes happen.

For some reason, however, the "French" designation for spinach eventually lost its appeal and fell into disuse. But the "Swiss" designation for chard stuck. It had staying power. Why? We don't know for sure.

Maybe it's because chard looks a bit like knickknacks. It's very colorful. It has that hard, lacquered look, not unlike some of the knickknacks we sometimes associate with Switzerland, things like cuckoo clocks, little figurines, ceramic egg cups, tiny cow bells and Alpine horns. Who knows?