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.