I was born and brought up in Cambridge, and every autumn we would look forward to the new celery, brought in from the fens with black peaty soil still attached to it. The stems would be pure white, not creamy or green, but white. The leaves, they would be green, the outer ones touch and almost leathery and a dark colour, but the inner ones would be bright and fresh and vivid, more like new spring leaves. The smell would be peppery and sweet and tempting, and once washed, the stalks, particularly the inner ones would be sweet and nutty with just a pepperiness in the back ground. The nearer you got to the heat of it, the whiter and sweeter the stalks. I don’t remember having it cooked as a vegetable, but the outside stalks were chopped up for stews or soup, but not to make actual celery soup.
When we moved to the west country, my parents often returned to Cambridge, and if they went back before Christmas they would bring a boot full of celery as gifts for their friends. You would open the boot and be enveloped in the wonderful smell. once they were taken out, my dad would clean the boot of all the bits of black soil and broken and snapped-off stalks and detached leaves. All the bits of celery he would wash and put into whatever he was cooking, particularly lamb or mutton stew.
According to Wikipedia, ‘Celery (Apium graveolens), a marshland plant variety in the family Apiaceae, has been cultivated as a vegetable since antiquity. Depending on location and cultivar, either its stalks, leaves, or hypocotyl are eaten and used in cooking’ … hypocotyl? It’s another word for stalk or stem… so a little tautology in the definition, I think!
According to one web-site – and I’m sure some of these are controversial, so take them as you would a nice crisp white celery stick, with a pinch of salt:
- Celery only has 10 calories per large stalk
- Celery may reduce inflammation so eat celery if you have joint pains, lung infections, asthma, or acne
- Celery contains minerals including magnesium which can soothe the nervous system and help combat insomnia, and sodium
- Celery regulates the body’s alkaline balance
- Celery aids digestion; it has high water content and can also act as a diuretic
- Celery contains Vitamin A; apparently it’s good for the eyes, lowers cholesterol, lowers blood pressure.
- Celery may boost your libido
- Celery may combat cancer
I’m not sure I believe all of that, but if you want to see more, here’s the link:
Having written about celery I think we may need to buy some when we go out shopping this afternoon… However, I doubt we will find what I have described above. We are more likely to find bright green (not white) celery, with a pungent, bitter taste, no nuttiness, little sweetness, and with very little actual celery flavour; Spanish farmers are great and they grow great crops, but the variety of celery they produce is not at all to my taste… I guess it’s better than nothing, and will help my diet, and if it’s really bitter, then I can always take the National Mark’s October recipe for celery soup:
- 1 large head of celery, washed and chopped into equal sized pieces
- 1 onion, sliced
- 1½ oz butter
- 1 oz flour
- 1 pint milk
- salt and pepper
- ¾ pint boiling water
- dice of toast
- boil the celery and onion until tender then rub through a sieve (or blend)
- melt the butter, stir in the flour, cook for a minute or so
- add the milk and bring to the boil, stirring vigorously
- add the celery and season to taste
- boil for eight minutes
- serve with the dice of toast
The recipe doesn’t mention what should happen to the water used for cooking the onion and celery but I would add it, and more butter and flour if it seems too thin – or cream! I would garnish with chopped celery leaves – the bright green ones from the middle