I like all the celery stalk, but I especially like the tender ribs in the middle of the stalk. I cook using celery, so I don’t have trouble consuming a stalk in a reasonable amount of time, and when I worry that I’ll have some go bad … I chop it up and throw it in the freezer. Admittedly, I usually buy celery hearts.
Celery is a member of the parsley family. From the works of Confucius, we learn that wild celery was in use in China before 500 B.C. Ancient Egyptians used the seeds as seasoning. Ancient Greeks use celery for medicinal purposes and both cultures believed it to be an aphrodisiac. It is not. The Greeks also used the stalks and leaves to weave victory wreaths for their sports heroes.
Tudor menus included celery and as unhealthy as Henry VIII was, he enjoyed salads loaded with numerous vegetables. I’ve started studying the history of the foods of Barcelona, Spain because of the mixture of cultures over the centuries. Celery was a part of 15th Century Barcelona cuisine.
Celery was cultivated in 16th Century gardens in Italy and in Northern European countries, but it was primarily used for medicinal purposes.
In the 17th Century, French and Italian gardens were filled with cultivated celery, but it was primarily grown for its root, not for the stalks. Finally, by the end of the century, the tender stalks and leaves were eaten with an oil based dressing. Gardeners realized that if they planted in late summer for fall harvesting, the bitterness was somewhat eliminated.
19th Century Americans grew celery, but still the most popular part of the plant was the root! It is found on menus of White House dinners, college events and restaurants of that era, but is was never really popular!
What has changed? Not a lot! In my favorite vintage period of the 1950s and 60s, celery was stuffed with savory cheeses. It was creamed and braised in butter. Celery is an ingredient in much of what we cook! In 1981 Chef Paul Prudhomme coined the phrase “Holy Trinity” related to cuisine and the use of the combination of celery, onion and bell pepper in his popular recipes! A couple hundred years earlier, the term “mirepoix” that was a combination of celery, onion and carrots used in French cuisine ... was coined. The term was named after the Duke of Mirepoix who was associated with Louis XV but seems to have no other claim to fame!
We should probably just be content that celery flavors foods and that it is a great ingredient in various wonderful dishes from all around the world! Today I’m going to share a couple recipes with you that include celery as the primary ingredient. In the meantime, keeping adding it to your Thanksgiving crudité tray, salads, soups, stews and to your favorite Bloody Mary!
In my 1940s and 50s cookbooks, I find the same couple of recipes used over and over. However, I also find that both are delicious. One is simple. You just boil pieces of celery, drain them and then serve them with butter … salt and pepper. They are even better with a spritz of lemon juice or by using combinations of citrus salts or peppers. That’s easy enough!
The second popular celery recipe from my favorite vintage period follows.
4 cups celery, cut in bite size chunks
4 Tablespoons melted butter
1 Tablespoon corn starch
2 cups vegetable or meat broth
Place the sliced onions in the bottom of an 8-inch square casserole dish. In a heavy skillet, brown the celery in the melted butter. This will require medium high heat. Dissolve the corn starch in the cold broth, then add it to the skillet and let it cook until it thickens. Pour this over the onions in the casserole and bake for about an hour at 325 degrees. While the recipe doesn’t include this, I usually add some crunch to the top of this casserole in the last ten minutes of baking. Use a cupful of crushed crackers, breadcrumbs, crushed potato chips … or the same onions you put on your green bean casserole.
Both these recipes are really good, but the following salad is one of my favorite celery sides. Strawberries are ripe in my neck of the woods right now, so the salad is extra good. You can make it year-round, though, if you can find strawberries in the supermarket! I’m going to share one of my secrets, too!
I keep it all the time and it is perfect for this simple side salad. If you want to make a homemade dressing, just combine 3 Tablespoons of rose wine, 3 Tablespoons of honey, 3 Tablespoons of avocado oil … a little salt and pepper … and you’ve got the perfect topper for this simple salad.
I’m posting this as a part of my 2020 Vintage Vegetables project. If you want to see similar columns, just click my menu tab. I’ll also be sharing this with a couple blog parties, so always check the list on my sidebar to visit those sites.
Stay safe. Stay well.