Today, October 31st …
Is the first day of stories by The Old Foodie, who hopes you enjoy them each Monday to Friday.
Sellery from Italy.
John Evelyn, writer, gardener, and salad enthusiast extraordinaire was born on this day in 1620. Salad Enthusiast Very Extraordinaire actually, raw veges being viewed with great suspicion in the seventeenth century. His fellow diarist Samuel Pepys had attributed the death of at least one neighbour to “eating cowcumbers” in 1663. The anxiety was not unjustified, water quality being what it was at the time, boiled vegetables were much safer.
It was the golden age of the English kitchen garden when Evelyn published “Acetaria: A discourse on sallets” in 1699. He listed 73 main salad ingredients, plus “sundry more” (including tulip bulbs), which he said should be “exquisitely cull’d, and cleans’d” and blended “like the Notes in Music, in which there should be nothing harsh or grating”. The dressing should be made with smooth, light oil from Lucca olives, the best wine vinegar infused with herbs and flowers, the brightest Bay grey-salt, the best (Tewkesbury or Yorkshire) mustard, sugar and pepper, “the yolks of fresh and new-laid eggs, boil’d moderately hard”, and various other “Strewings and Aromatizers”.
Ingredient number 59 in Evelyn’s list was “Sellery”, newly introduced from Italy, with the “high and grateful Taste” of its tender leaves and “whiten’d stems” making it, he said, eminently suitable for the grandest salads at the greatest feasts.
Within a few decades, celery was commonplace in cooked dishes as well as salads. One of its most popular uses was as an accompaniment to turkey, as in this recipe, from Hannah Glasse’s “The Art of Cookery made plain and easy …” (1747).
To make Sellery-Sauce either for roasted or boiled Fowls, Turkies, Partridges, or any other Game.
Take a large Bunch of Sellery, wash and pare it very clean, cut it into little Bits, and boil it softly in a little Water till it is tender; then add a little beaten Mace, some Nutmeg, Pepper and Salt, thicken’d with a good Piece of Butter roll’d in Flour, then boil it up, and pour into your dish.
What I want to know is this: what happened to celery? We don’t put the leaves in salads, and we don’t serve it as a side dish anymore. What a waste.
Could celery leaves be the new parsley?
Could braised celery be the new roasted beetroot?
Tomorrow… Eating the flower of death.