What is celery?
The delicate, distinctive flavour of celery makes it a favourite when eaten fresh in its natural state or when stuffed with soft cheese and fresh herbs. When included in casseroles or cooked to create a stock for soups, it merges well with the other ingredients so that it forms the backbone of flavour of the dish.
Celery, considered part of the holy trinity of Louisiana Creole and Cajun cuisines – celery, onions and capsicum – was also prized in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. For thousands of years it was considered a crucial medicine. In 30 AD, Aulus Cornelius Celsus (a Roman medical writer) suggested using celery seeds for the relief of pain.
The cultivated version of wild celery was used extensively in Italian and French cuisine during the Middle Ages. Nowadays, braised celery is an intensely flavoured delicacy in France – cook sliced celery, onions, chopped parsley and vegetable stock, top with buttery breadcrumbs and bake until golden brown.
Celery sold in Australia has long, straight stalks with green leaves at the top that look a little like parsley. Chinese celery is another type that is available in this country. This is darker in colour than common celery and looks like continental parsley, although it has a strong celery flavour.
Why celery is good to eat
- Celery is a good source of vitamins A, C and K (important for helping your blood to clot).
- It also contains minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure) and manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function).
- Celery contains dietary fibre and folate.
- Energy – 100 g of celery supplies about 60 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Celery prefers mild temperatures (warm days and cool nights) and grows best in climates that are not extreme. It is usually grown from seedlings that are planted in partially shaded areas. Celery requires plenty of water.
Celery is typically harvested about four to five months after planting, when the stalks are around 15 cm long. You can harvest the whole plant by cutting it off at the roots, or you can carefully cut individual stalks. When removing individual stalks, it’s best to remove the outer stalk first as this allows the inner, younger stalks more time to grow.
Some people ‘blanch’ their celery to reduce the bitterness and to make the celery more tender. The blanching process involves building up a mound of mulch to cover the stalks about a month before harvest to prevent light reaching the stalks. Commercial farmers usually wrap the stalks in black plastic.
Care should be taken when harvesting celery. Some people develop skin or allergic problems when handling this vegetable, so wearing gloves is a good idea.
Choose celery with long, crisp stems and fresh, green leaves. The bunch of celery should not have any visible signs of damage or brown patches on the stalks. Avoid selecting celery that is limp or dry and has cracks in the stalks.
How to store and keep celery
Store celery in a plastic bag in the crisper section of your fridge. Use celery within seven days of buying.
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