When Celery Was King

Buffalo Bisons race with hot wing and celery during a game against the Louisville Bats on June 23, 2016 at Coca-Cola Field in Buffalo, New York. Buffalo defeated Louisville 9-6. (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP)

Celery is the outcast of the vegetable kingdom. Sure, the plant is rich in Vitamin K, but its fibrous stalks, bitter tasting leaves, and unique aftertaste are undesirable to the palate. Celery is either hidden (in sauces or as mirepoix) or left uneaten on crudité plates (no matter how good the ranch or blue cheese dressing with which to slather it). In short, celery is disgusting.

However, the vegetable wasn’t always neglected; during the Victorian era, the stalks were revered and highly sought-after, a symbol of one’s status and wealth. The mid-19th century was the boom time for the vegetable, as Heather Arndt Anderson explains in her Taste treatise on celery:

Native to the Mediterranean, celery cultivation began in the early 1800s in the cool, damp wetlands of East Anglia. It was fussy to grow and difficult to obtain—and this made it irresistible to the Victorian upper classes. Between the 1830s and the early 1900s, celery appeared as a standalone dish in countless cookbooks and housekeepers’ guides.

Referred to by Anderson as the avocado toast of its day, celery was still en vogue in the 20th century to be served to first-class diners on the Titanic, but after nearly a hundred years of vegetable dominance, celery’s star began to wane. It became… basic.

As American cultivation improved, celery became an everyman’s item. By then, the British upper classes had moved on to French luxuries like truffles and oysters. Celery vases may have gone the way of the dodo, but one would be hard-pressed to find a premade veggie tray without a slot for celery. Like it or not, celery isn’t going anywhere.

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