Anna is taking a week break from writing the column, but will return next week. In her absence, the market has posted a recipe, which will be brought to the market for tasting on Saturday.
One must be thankful to early eaters who inserted the necessary six degrees of separation between celery and its deadly cousin, poison hemlock, thus making it possible to enjoy one and avoid the other. Known to create a tingle on the top of the tongue celery has a decidedly bitter taste. The outer, darker stalks are more strongly flavored than the lighter inner stalks. Its high-water content gives the celery a decided crunch. So much so that George Bernard Shaw claimed that the thought of two thousand people crunching celery at the same time horrified him.
Noisy crunch or not, this crispy vegetable, along with onions and carrots, are the heart of the French Mirepoix which is one of classic French cuisine’s foundational pillars. It is also a prominent component of Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole culinary holy trinity of celery, onion and bell peppers. Celery is an integral ingredient of Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. It is also a great way to convey peanut butter or hummus to the mouth. Celery’s bitterness has an intrinsic quality of balance that makes it essential in many soups and stews regardless of ethnic affiliation.
In its early days, celery was cultivated primarily for its therapeutic properties until the 17th C when it moved into the kitchen and onto the table. Until that time, it was used to treat impotence and to promote passion. The famed Casanova was a celery devotee attributing his amorous ways to its daily consumption. It is still used to reduce blood pressure. Celery seed extract has been found as effective as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen in reducing inflammation.
Since celery arrived in the kitchen, many ways have been developed to make that crunch count. Stuffing celery stalks with hot pepper jelly & cream cheese, spicy crabmeat dip or tzatziki are easy hors oeuvres that, no matter the fads of the day, are always welcome. Today’s recipe is Cream of Celery Soup. It can be served hot or cold, to warm or refresh.
We’re not talking technology here, rather that red, round, pomaceous relative of the rose, inaccurately reputed to be the original temptation accountable for the loss of Paradise. It’s true. Translations delved into reveal that biblical allusions refer only to a “fruit”. Poetic license and careless storytelling seem to be responsible for centuries of potential libel. The bible does however, record the lovesickness of the young woman asking for the comfort of apples in the Song of Solomon.
The apple tree, its fruit, its legends, myths and tall tales are woven throughout American, Arabian, Breton, Chinese, English, German, Greek, Irish, Kazakhstani, Norse, Roman and Scandinavian folklore. Western cultural references and images include: an apple a day, golden apples of the sun, apple polishers, forbidden fruit, upset carts, apple blossom time, apples and oranges, one bad apple, Adam’s apple, William Tell and as American as apple pie. Apple Annie’s shiny apple in A Pocket Full of Miracles hilariously produced good fortune. The beautiful but evil Queen, stepmother of Sleeping Beauty, concocted a poison apple that sent her stepdaughter into a coma of a hundred years.
The apple tree has led a long and nomadic life. A Kazakhstani folk tale tells of a young man entrusted with gold to buy seeds for a great garden. His compassion compelled him to purchase the freedom of miserably treated exotic birds. In gratitude, they dug a hole and planted an exquisite garden with an apple orchard. All apple varieties can trace their ancestry to the great grandames of Kazakhstan.
Apple seedlings made their way from Kazakhstan south into the fertile plain between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers where they then hitched a ride with trade caravans east and westward bound. The apple made a blushing appearance in Homer’s Odyssey. A 6th C BC Chinese diplomat recorded propagation of apple trees through grafting and, despite the charming tales of the American itinerant preacher, Johnny Appleseed, today most apple propagation is achieved through grafting.
The air in these parts has turned as crisp and enticing as the apples. There may be wood smoke in the air in the not too distant future. Sometimes I feel so sorry for people who live in single season places. Oh surely they tout their own environment. For me the seasonal changes, their anticipation and fulfillment are a comfort. Along with the apples. Normandy is a region in which apples play a very influential part in the cuisine, Calvados, apple custards and torts and ciders. Today we’ve got an updated take on a famous dish called Chicken Normandy. The website has many apple recipes, everything from Apple Soup and Apple Cheddar Cheese Pie to Apple Maple Bread Pudding and Sweet Potato Apple Gratin, scroll through and see what tickles your fancy.