Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bobbie's Swiss Chard

I never eat Swiss chard without thinking of Bobbie Davenport. She was my mother's best friend, my second mother and my kindred spirit.

Bobbie loved animals. Oh, she adored her family, too - my "other" sisters and brothers and her husband, Butch, about whom I will write at some other time - but she was known all over her area of Michigan as a lover of animals of every description.

Over the years, the Davenports kept as pets a blue jay, a fox, a woodchuck, some crows, squirrels and rabbits, lots of baby birds fallen from nests and several raccoons - one of which crashed her daughter's wedding and nearly stole the show - not to mention countless dogs, cats and a couple of horses. As an animal lover myself, it's no wonder she was my hero and my mentor.

She lived most of her life in a sprawling, welcoming house with thick field stone walls, enormous beams and wide plank floors, fashioned from an old barn. It was to that house that I and my family came frequently for visits during our peripatetic life in the Navy. It was our base, the place that never changed in a life of constant flux. Her children were roughly our ages, so we all got along well when we weren't fighting like true sisters and brothers.

She knew how to raise just about any wild animal baby to an age when it could be released to survive on its own - and she was admittedly a little, er, eccentric. She solidified her reputation for kookiness when they had a fire which took the whole second story off their house. The phone rang while the fire brigade was still there and a woman asked for instructions on raising a wild foundling; Bobbie sat down and proceeded to give her the recipe for the "squirrel milk" she used for many of her wild orphans, interrupting to return to removing possessions only when the woman became chatty about how cute the baby was, saying calmly "You'll have to excuse me now - my house is on fire."

Bobbie had a big vegetable patch out beyond her lovely flower garden and in season it yielded all kinds of fresh produce. Corn, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, spinach - it all came to the table and was devoured by the hungry hoard. But, no Swiss chard. Oh, she planted and tended it, weeded and watered it, but try as she would, year after patient year, she could never keep the Swiss chard away from the woodchucks.

The woodchucks loved the chard and gobbled it up as soon as it poked its tender leaves above the ground. Bobbie railed at the woodchucks each summer, threatening darkly to get her rifle out and end their miserable, chard-stealing lives. We children, of course, thought that was hysterically funny, coming from the world's most dedicated animal lover. Our smothered giggles just made her even angrier. We were secretly grateful to the woodchucks for sparing us from the dreaded Swiss chard.

My Beloved introduced me to my first Swiss chard - we never got any at Davis Lane because the woodchucks always won and Bobbie never did carry out her dire threats. His version is the one I make most frequently, a simple preparation of softening garlic chips in butter in a wide pan and adding the washed Swiss chard with just the water clinging to the leaves, tossing the leaves until they relax and go soft in the buttery pan before serving.

Each time I make Swiss chard, this summer from my own garden, I remember Bobbie Davenport and the summers we spent with her, raising baby animals and cursing the woodchucks.



Blogger Dagny said...

I would have loved to have been at Bobbie's house when I was growing up. I was forever trying to bring critters home. And I absolutely love Swiss chard. Yum.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008  
Blogger Kitt said...

What nice memories! How funny that you dreaded that chard, when it is so tasty.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008  
Blogger cookiecrumb said...

Woodchucks! Never seen one.
How much chard would a woodchuck chuck? All of it, apparently.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008  
Blogger Michelle said...

MMm...we have lots of swiss chard all the time (or maybe it is rainbow that we have...), so I'll try this with it next time! I love the memories you associate with it! Isn't it wonderful when something just takes us back to such powerful memories?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008  
Blogger Anna Haight said...

I love this story! And this is how my mother prepared Swiss chard, and it always reminds me of her. She was eccentric too!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Dagny, Bobbie would have loved having you there, too!

Kitt, I know! Crazy! I love it now!

Cookiecrumb, never? I guess they don't live in CA as I've never seen one here, either.

Michelle, the rainbow chard is wonderful - I love all the colors!

Anna, bless those eccentric mothers!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008  
Blogger kudzu said...

A (true) overheard conversation -- Waitress: The special vegetable today is Swiss chard.
Diner: What's a chard?

Thanks for the nice story about it, for all of us who are in the know.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Kudzu, glad you liked my story - I chuckled at yours!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008  
Blogger dancingmorganmouse said...

What a lovely memory/story. I'd have loved to have had a Bobbie in my life growing up, all those beasties, it would have been bliss. And "squirrel milk", made me waste a little wine, I've had to wipe off the screen!

Thursday, September 11, 2008  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Morgan, yes, I was lucky to have her - and sorry about the wine!

Thursday, September 11, 2008  

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