—by Kate Wagner, HPC Member
Upstairs, downstairs is the relationship between celery and celery root. Celery is grown for its fat stalks, while its underground relative, celeriac, is a tuber with a mild flavor and texture, combining the crunch of celery with the smoothness of potatoes. Of these two sister vegetables, celery is the simpler one—easy on the eyes, popular, and not demanding of attention. The celery plant is gently stimulating, nourishing, and restorative; it can be liquefied, with the juice taken for joint and urinary tract inflammations. In the past, celery was grown as a vegetable for winter and early spring. Because of its antitoxic properties, it was perceived as a cleansing tonic, welcomed after the stagnation of a long winter.
As a salad plant, celery is difficult to digest. Celery has ‘negative calories’, as the effort to consume it burns more calories than it contains. It also possesses valuable diuretic properties. Both blanched and green it is stewed and used in soups, and the seeds can be used as a flavoring ingredient. Even after long immersion in broth, the stalks remain somewhat crisp, and are useful for adding texture to soup. Chopped, it is one of the three vegetables considered the holy trinity of Louisiana Creole and Cajun cuisine.
Celery root (also known as celeriac, soup celery, celery knob, and turniprooted celery) is grown for its well-developed taproot rather than for its stem and leaves. It is a special variety of celery, developed by gardeners during the Renaissance. The root is used when it is about the size of a large potato.
It is unfortunate that most cookbooks ignore celery root. It enjoys wide popularity in this country only in German communities, where it is pureed and used in stews. It is not as appreciated as it should be, very possibly owing to its garish appearance before cleaning. It has been described as “a vegetable octopus,” owing to the tangle of unsightly rootlets that grow at the base.
Celery root may be used raw or cooked. It is best to peel celery root before use, since the outer skin is tough and stringy. It has a celery-like taste, so it is often used as a flavoring in soups and stews. It can also be mashed or used in casseroles and baked dishes. In recipes calling for cauliflower, fennel, or cardoon, celery root makes an interesting substitute if not a surprising improvement. Also, the hollow stalk of the upper plant can be cut into drinking straw lengths, rinsed out, and used for tomato drinks such as the Bloody Mary. The tomato juice moving through the stalk is lightly permeated with the celery flavor.