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Celery & Celeriac

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Celeriac rosti

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Celery and Celeriac

celery leavesWith similar tastes, but very different textures, these two vegetables have been developed from the same plant, Apium graveolens, so they are cultivated in much the same way. Both like soil enriched with compost or with well rotted manure that was spread the previous autumn. They both need copious quantities of water and a warm, frost-free start in life. Since they take a long time to grow the gardener has to sow seed in March, in a heated propagator, and keep the seedlings cosseted until night-time temperatures won’t fall below 5°C. Thereafter the plants are relatively trouble free, though very thirsty, so are best watered twice a week from an undersoil irrigation system. Celery must be protected from slugs which love to take up residence inside the developing heads. Surround your plants with beer traps.
In the autumn both celery and celeriac can be harvested as soon as they seem big enough to be usable. They will tolerate a “touch of frost”, ie down to -2 or -3°C, but cannot cope with serious freezing which reduces them to brown mush. Celery won’t store so don’t grow more than you will be able to use in a few months. Celeriac should be lifted, trimmed of leaves and small roots asnd stored, not in a plastic bag, for up to 2 or 3 weeks in a cool larder, or properly in sand in a frost-free shed where it will keep for 3 or 4 months.
Celeriac does not freeze well, store it instead, and because celery is so water filled it can only be frozen as a soup base and even then the flavour deteriorates.

celery and celeriacSalads and soups are their traditional uses, and very good they are, but braised celery, buttery celeriac mashed into potatoes, spicy stir-fried and celeriac and apple “rosti” will give these two veg a fresh look.
When preparing celeriac, remember that it may discolour quickly, though modern varieties seem less prone to this, so melt the butter or warm the oil in which you are going to cook it so that you can coat the freshly peeled pieces as you cut them.
The outer stems of celery are often stringy so remove some of the tough strings by cutting across the base of the stem from inner convex side towards the outer concave side and catching the strings with the edge of the knife just before you completely cut through them, then pull gently but firmly towards the leaf end and they should pull away from the stem.

The inner leaves of both celery and celeriac are tender and tasty and, left raw and finely chopped, make a useful garnish. When making celery or celeriac soup incorporate some of the leaves to intensify the flavour. Raw celery leaves go well with soft cheese in a dip and add lend their aroma to greens fritters.
There is also celery leaf, a plant usually grown in the herb garden, that will produce tender, usable leaves for most of the year without bolting into flower; these can be used as flavouring or garnish or added to winter salads.
If you grow your own celery why not use some of the leaves to make celery salt? Wash the leaves you are going to use if they are muddy and shake dry. Spread them out on a wire rack in an airy place, not too hot, until they are dry. This may take a few days. Then crumble them and mix with coarse sea salt. Store in a screw topped jar and use this salt when you are cooking celery dishes to give extra punch.