Celery, Celeriac and Celtuce
Celery and celeriac are members of the parsley family and probably originated near the Mediterranean, but wild forms of it that barely resemble the cultivated varieties grow in low-lying wet places in Europe and southern Asia. It is written that the French were the first to use celery as a food, around 1600. Earlier it found some use as a medicine. The first recorded commercial production of celery in the United States was in Kalamzoo, Michigan, in 1874.
Celery is a leafy plant that produces long, edible, crisp stalks. It demands more time and attention than most garden vegetables, and needs about 4 months of temperatures over 70 degrees. If you don't start from transplants, sow the seed indoors 2 to 4 months before spring planting time. Seed should germinate in 2 to 3 weeks.
Sow the very small seed 1/8 inch deep in flats or pots and keep moist by covering with damp burlap. Transplant seedlings carefully after the danger of frost is passed, provide lots of shade and moisture to the new plants until they are established. Celery grows naturally in wet almost boggy locations, so the water supply must be plentiful and on-going.
Use plenty of 5-10-10 fertilizer, because celery is a heavy feeder. Soil should be rich in organic matter and have a neutral pH. Although blanching is not usually necessary in modern varities, it may make them more tender. Wrapping with paper, shading with boards, or mounding soil around the stalks will blanch them. To harvest dig the whole plant from the ground or pull off the outer stalks and leave the inner ones to continue growing.
How to use; Celery is well known as an hors d`oeuvre stuffed with cheese or served with hot or cold dips. Add to salads or use chopped to enhance spreads. The leafy tops, chopped fine, go well in soups and salad and can also be dried, powdered and used as a seasoning. It makes a delicious creamed soup. As a hot vegetable it can be boiled, braised, fried or baked. Try stewing with tomatoes, shallots and basil; or serve hot garnished with anchovy fillets and sprinkle with wine vinegar.
Celeriac is a form of celery grown for its swollen, rough, globular root, this plant is smaller than celery and its foliage a very dark green. It is sometimes called turnip-rooted celery.
Grow celeriac in the same way as celery; it is just as demanding of plentiful fertilizer; rich neutral soil and a continuous water supply. Any side shoots that develop should be removed. Harvest the root once it is 2 inches or more in diameter, dicarding the top. Roots can be mulched in fall to extend the harvest period.
How to use; The flavor of celeriac is a combination of celery and English walnuts. It can be shredded and served raw in salads, but it is better cooked, and is good in soups, stews and Asian dishes. Try it steamed and served with butter or cream sauce; or parboil, slice and bread it, then fry in butter.
Tip; It has a faint bitterness that can be removed by blanching in salted water and lemon juice just before preparation.
Celtuce...Native to China, celtuce was named because it combines the uses of celery and lettuce. It is sometimes called asparagus lettuce for the same reason. The leaves when young are harvested for fresh salad or cooked greens. When the plant matures, the thick central core can be used like celery or asparagus.
Celtuce is grown in the same way as lettuce. It grows well during the winter in frost-free areas. Greens are ready for harvest in 45 to 50 days; the central stalk is ready in about 90 days.
How to use; Celtuce leaves are used in salads in the same way as lettuce, or cooked as greens. The stalk, once it is peeled, can be eaten raw or cooked. Raw celtuce is very high in vitamin C (cooking destroys most of the vitamin). Its consistency when cooked is similar to that of artichoke hearts.