Not all modern gardeners have grown celery so one might doubt its popularity in times past, but I have yet to see a gardening treatise or catalog that doesn’t discuss growing celery. Cookery books encouraged the liberal use of it as a seasoning and as a salad which might have been as simple as crisp celery in a celery vase.
The Victorian celery vase or glass was an essential part of a well-dressed table from the 1820’s into the 1910’s although some journals advised readers the celery vase was being phased out in favor of a boat-like dish in the 1890’s. The vases grew in popularity until mass-production flooded the market.
“Celery is sometimes chopped small and mixed with a dressing made as directed for lettuce; but the usual way of preparing them is to scrape and wash them clean, and let them lie in cold water till just before they are to be sent to the table; then wipe them dry, split the ends of the stalks, leaving on a few of the green leaves, and send them to table in celery glasses. Celery should be kept in a cellar, and the roots covered with tan to keep them from wilting.” – The Kentucky Housewife. 1839.
When celery was served at table, those who desired to do so, helped themselves to a stalk, dipped it in a little salt on one’s plate and ate it. The celery was expected to be tender and crisp when served alone. “To Crisp Celery. Let it lie in ice water two hours before serving. To fringe the stalk, stick several coarse needles into a cork and draw the stalk half way from the top several times, and lay in the refrigerator to curl and crisp”. – Vaughn’s Seed Store. 1898.
Celery was no exception to the “waste not, want not” approach to food. “There need never be any part of a bunch of celery wasted. Serve the small, white stalks whole with salt, or cut fine and dressed as a salad. Cut the larger stalks into short pieces, cook in boiling salted water and cover with cream sauce. The very coarsest pieces may be boiled and strained for soup. Nearly all soups may be improved by the addition of celery. Dry the leaves in the oven, then chop or rub fine and they are nice for seasoning soups”. 1904.
Now, gentle reader, let us look at recipes for various prepared dishes of celery which might dress our table for that next special occasion meal.
Celery Salt. 1904. This is very nice to season oysters, gravies, soups, etc. Dry and grate the roots of celery and mix with one-third the quantity of salt. Put into bottles and keep tightly corked.
Celery Fried. 1786. When boiled, dip it in batter, fry it of a light brown, and dry; pour over melted butter.
Celery to fry. 1818. Cut off the heads, and green tops of six or eight heads of celery; take off the outside stalks, pare the roots clean have ready half a pint of white wine, the yolks of three eggs beaten fine, salt and nutmeg; mix all together with flour into a batter, into which dip every head, and fry them in butter; when done, lay them in your dish, and pour melted butter over them.
Celery Sauce. 1818. Boil celery heads three inches long, in a little stock, till nearly done and the liquor almost wasted away, then add some béchamel. . .
Celery Fritters. 1909. Make a batter of two eggs, one cupful of milk, a tablespoonful of melted butter, one cupful of flour, and a pinch of salt. Boil until tender in salted water stalks of celery cut into four inch lengths, drain, cool, and dry. Dip in batter, fry in deep fat, drain, and serve with Hollandaise Sauce.
Creamed Celery. 1909. Clean, trim, and cut the celery into short pieces. Boil until tender in salted water, drain, and reheat in a Cream Sauce. Sprinkle with grated nutmeg if desired. Diced cooked carrots may be added to Creamed Celery.
Cabbage and Celery Cooked. 1909. Cut cabbage fine, and soak in salt water, drain and add equal amount of chopped celery, cook until tender, drain and sift a little dry flour over the hot cabbage and celery, cook the flour, add milk, when done add one beaten egg; serve at once.
Escalloped Celery. 1909. Chop celery very fine or cut in half-inch lengths and cook until tender in boiling salted water to cover. Drain and reheat in a cream or White Sauce. Put into a buttered baking-dish in layers, sprinkling each layer with grated cheese or crumbs or both crumbs and grated cheese. Have crumbs and cheese on top, dot with butter, and brown in the oven. Oysters also may be put between the layers.
Celery-Potato Croquettes. To a pint of mashed potatoes add half a teacup of cooked celery, season with a tablespoon of butter, half a teaspoon of salt, a dash of white pepper; add the yolk of one egg. Roll in shape of a small cylinder three inches long and one and a fourth inches thick. Dip them in the beaten white of egg, roll in cracker or bread crumbs and fry.
Cream of Celery Soup. 1909. One-third cup of celery cut in pieces, two cups of boiling water, one sliced onion, two teaspoons of butter, three tablespoons of flour, three cups of milk, salt and pepper to taste. Cook celery till soft, rub through sieve, scald milk with onion in it, add to celery, bind and season.
Stuffed Celery. 1913. Mix cream cheese with enough cream to moisten it; season with salt and cayenne; chop 8 olives and ½ lb. English walnuts and mix with cheese. Select short wide pieces of celery, trim off most of the leaves and fill with cheese mixture.