Thursday, 18 September 2008

Pass Me A Stick and The Salt Pot, Please

These past couple of months I’ve re-discovered celery.

Mum never really used it in salads or stews because she always found it too stringy but Grandad loved it so every Christmas she’d get it in special for our evening ‘light bites’ (sarnies, celery, pickled onions, jellied eels and mince pies). Grandad would douse a stick of celery in salt and then, alongside his cheese & pickle sandwich, he’d take a bite. I can still hear the sound of that satisfying crunch! It was the crunch that eventually got me to try a stick myself. Anything that sounded that good surely had to taste good too? Well, that was the philosophy of a 7 year old, anyway.

And it did. I used to look forward to Christmas for a plethora of reasons but celery was definitely one of them. I think part of it was also the sharing of something special with Grandad, the man who I respected more in my life than anybody I’ve ever met either before or since. He was such an amazing influence in so many ways.

Anyway, because I’m always trying to get more fruit and veg into my daughter, I’m forever buying stuff that she either hasn’t tried for a long time (she accepts that our taste does change) or has just never had at all. Celery was one of those vegetables that I’d kind of dropped by the wayside when I left home and had never properly re-discovered. It was time to remedy that.

Nowadays there’s always at least a couple of sticks in the fridge because it’s become one of our staple salad veggies and now, as the colder weather starts to set in, it’ll be used in lots of casseroles and stews. We’ve already tried it in a few (including spaghetti Bolognese) and are happy with both the taste and the texture.

Celery’s great for those who have to watch their weight because it has very few calories but lots of fibre. In fact, it’s said that celery actual leaves us with negative calories because celery is quite difficult to digest so the body uses more energy to burn the fibre than it actually contains. The jury's still out as to whether or not there's any truth in that though, but it could explain how Grandad managed to stay slim and muscular when he ate huge amounts of protein and calorie rich foods but also ate a whole lot of celery!

Those with high blood pressure will also benefit by incorporating celery into their diet as, thanks to the Pthalides, it helps the muscles of the arteries relax, thus allowing blood vessels to dilate. It’s also high in vitamin C so will help prevent colds - a good reason for bunging some in those stews and casseroles - and contains a few essential minerals. It also offers a decent dose of vitamin K, necessary for blood clotting (although not so good for those who have 'sticky blood' - that's blood that's actually prone to clotting).

Good celery tastes slightly bitter with a spicy after taste and although I wouldn’t suggest dousing it in salt the way Grandad did, a few grains can help bring out the flavour. It's worth using sea salt rather than table salt though; it's less of a poison. Stuffing the cavity with cream cheese is really nice, too.

Locally grown celery should be available all year round some of which may be organic, although the latter may come from further afield than the 30 mile radius that’s usually used to measure whether food is or isn’t local, but you should definitely find British grown, organic celery at least. Personally, I'd go for local before organic but that’s just a matter of choice. Of course, if I can get celery that's both local and organic, all the better (or, at least, I think it is - I'm still on the fence regarding the long-term environmental impact of organic food).

Along with onions and peppers, celery is one of the staple ingredients of Creole and Cajun cooking, which pretty much matches my own. I love using onions, could eat raw red peppers with every meal (but I don’t), and… well, you already know about the celery.

What else could be so enjoyable that's long and hard with dangly bits below it and a big, bulky head? Answers on a postcard, please....

Sharon J


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Jennifer said...

Hi Sharon
You are so right about using celery in cajun cooking. As an official Louisianian, I can tell you that they refer to the use of the onion, pepper and celery as the 'holy trinity' of what starts a dish. However, garlic is usually always thrown in as well as the fourth ingredient. This is the base of my 'beans' recipes I do in the slow cooker by the way.

Celery is also great a bulking out a dish and in stuffings.


Sharon J said...

I almost always put garlic in my food too and celery goes in just about every casserole, stew & salad. Haven't tried it in stuffings yet but will bear it in mind :)

I've been thinking about getting a slow cooker but it'll have to wait until the kitchen's been done because there's no room for it at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Celery - one of my favorite veggies for filling in other things. Sauteed medium dice celery with onions and garlic is a good side dish with blander foods like plain roast chix. Ants on a log - peanut butter stuffed celery stalk with raisins on top - may appeal to your daughter. My grandkids like celery with a filling of equal parts PB, honey & wheat germ.

My grandmother actually had a piece of cut glass - short of a short vase with a wide mouth - called a celery jar. It was used for holding celery at the table.

Sharon J said...

Hi Anonymous. Your ants on a log sound delicious but they're a no-go with my daughter who doesn't like peanut butter. Talk about fussy! Oh, and she's 19 so 'novelty' doesn't cut it anymore. They shound like a good idea for a buffet though.

Celery jars were once a status symbol y'know, back in the day when celery was hard to obtain. If you had a proper glass jar for it, it meant you had it often and must therefore be wealthy. They were replaced by long, flat bowls at the turn of the last century but, of course, lots of people still used them. Nowadays, antique celery jars are more often used as ordinary vases. My mum always put our celery in a glass at Christmas. No fancy celery jars in our East End home.

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