What had come from England to North America as a luxury vegetable—a garnish, a salad green, an additive to soups in sauces—became in the first half of the 19th century an emblem of the ambition of master gardeners. They created giant varieties to enter as specimen vegetables in the horticultural competitions held at the agricultural and county fairs the sprang up across the United States in the 1820s and 1830s. Sporting names like “Giant” and “Seymour’s Superb,” the monster celery loomed over two feet tall. Gigantic varieties sprawled over the market stalls and dominated the exhibition tables until a reaction erupted in mid-century. Cooks objected that celery to stand that tall developed too coarse a grain, and too pithy a rib-structure. (In part, the pithiness was the result of breeders overcoming a tendency in celery to grow hollow sections in the stalk—solidity became a prime desideratum in varieties.) To meet the demand for a more delicately textured, finer-tasting celery, experimental gardeners developed dwarf varieties specifically for culinary use. The Early Dwarf Solid White was perhaps the most popular of these sorts. For the latter part of the 19th century the plant breeding agenda was dominated by the goal two goals: combining the size of the giants with the flavor of the dwarfs, and expanding the flavor range of celery. By the 1880s a range of fine tasting, tender fleshed celery had come into being: the Dwarf White, the Sandringham Dwarf White, the Giant White Solid, the White Walnut (notable for its nutty taste), the Half Dwarf (beloved of spectacle cooks for its yellow color when blanched), the Golden Dwarf (with a similar visual appeal, only waxier), London Red (esteemed by chefs for its crisp texture and piquant flavor), the Major Clark Pink (perhaps the pinnacle of breeding, possessing the size of the giants, the walnut flavor of the White Walnut, and splendid compacting), and Hood’s Dwarf Red.
Wild celery—smallage—grew natively in Europe, near water, along marshes and ditch-sides, particularly near sea coasts. This salt-tolerant yet rank-tasting edible plant became a palatable garden herb at the hands of Italian cultivators in the late medieval period. Originally called ‘Ache’ in England, celery came in two old varieties—red and white. Yet the vegetable did not come into vogue until the end of the 18th century. In part, this popularity depended upon a broad change in taste in favor of uncooked vegetables in salads. Yet the taste for celery was deeper than that, for a range of cooked dishes came into common consumption. English taste favored celery as a winter salad, with blanched stalks nibbled raw with salt, or dressed in a mustard vinaigrette and eaten chopped as a slaw. The English and Anglo-Americans also found celery sauce to be the ideal accompaniment of roasted fowls and mutton. The first extensive discussion of celery in American print occurred in M’Mahon’s The American Gardener’s Calendar (1806). There he indicated that four sorts of celery had come into cultivation in the United States. Of the “Italian” or upright celeries, Americans grew “common upright with hallow stalks, solid-stalked ecelery; red-stalked celery, &c..” And Americans grew one kind of turnip-rooted celery—or celeriac.
Because celery grows best in cool weather it enjoyed favor in northern regions as a year round vegetable, and in the south as a late fall and winter crop. There the greatest growth took place in late September, October, and November. If the gardener desired blanched asparagus, he or she would mound up the earth against the stalks. The earth would be packed firmly to prevent stalks from spreading. In those parts of the south where a winter crop could be grown, the plants were cultivated one foot apart in all directions. Their struggle for January light would give them naturally and upright posture. In the south celery was grown as a second crop, following a Spring crop “of Beets, Onions, Cabbage, Cauliflower, or Peas, which are cleared off and marketed at latest, by the middle of July.” The gardener added not manure to field, simply plowing and harrowing it. During the second quarter of the 19th century, cultivators learned that celery could be grown rather densely, spaced 6 inches apart in a row. With spacing for dwarf varieties at three feet, and larger varieties from 4 and ½ half to 5 feet. Often initial germination took place in a hot-bed with plants transferred into the field. Certain celery varieties proved more amenable to winter cropping, such as the Red Solid.
1. James Seymour, Gardener to the Countess of Bridgewater in Hertfordshire, UK, was the most active international plant breeder of celery. He established his “Superb” variety by publicizing trial plantings of the variety with the other giants—Bailey’s Gigantic, Manchester Large Giant, Perkins’s Large, Russian Pink, Seymour’s Solid, Kentucky, Law’s Giant, and Siberian. “Comparative Results from cultivating Nine Sorts of Celery,” The Gardener’s magazine and Register 7 (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1841), p. 76.
2. “Cultivation of Celery,” Magazine of Horticulture, Botany, and useful Discoveries 15 (1849), 11. 127-28.
3. Jules Arthur Harder, Physiology of Taste: Harder’s book of Practical American Cookery, 6 vols. (San Francisco, 1885), 1:98-99.
4. E. Lewis Sturtevant, “History of Celery,” The American Naturalist 20 (Philadelphia, 1886), pp. 601-03.
5. Bernard M’Mahon, The American Gardener’s Calendar (Philadelphia: B. Graves, 1806), p. 183.
6. Two approaches prevailed in ‘earthing up’ celery: the trench method had the cultivator excavate trenches in which celery would be planted and gradually fill them higher and higher as plant grew; the mounding up method grows the celery a ground level and hoes a furrow between the rows, using the earth to mass against the stalks. William Cobbett, The American Gardener (London: C. Clement, 1821), art. 210.
7. William N. White, Gardening for the South (New York: C.M. Saxton & Co., 1857), pp. 137-41.
Golden Dwarf History
much liked by the market gardeners in New York
Haywood’s Dwarf White Queen History
a new sort (as of 1873), short, solid, crisp, from England and endorsed as the best variety grown.
Hood’s Dwarf Red History
solid, crisp, juicy; the red varieties are largely grown in England, and are by many considered superior to the white.
Sandringham Dwarf White, or Prince of Wales History
new variety, very dwarf and solid; produced by the gardener for the Prince of Wales
Turner’s Incomparable Dwarf White History
very stiff, close habit; solid, crisp, juicy and of a nutty flavor.
Crawford’s Half Dwarf History
favorite variety with New York City market gardens; nutty flavor.
Half Dwarf History
grown extensively by market gardeners in New York; pleasant nutty flavor.
Perfection Heartwell History
New (as of 1883); half dwarf, with full golden heart.
Boston Market History
medium size, tender and crisp; keeps better than any other white kind.
Brighton Hero, new History
Erfurt Best History
superior for soups
Goodwin’s White History
solid and crisp
Ivery’s Nonsuch History
an excellent, new, red variety
Laing’s Mammoth Red History
Lion’s Paw History
broad, short stemmed, flat stalk, white and crisp
Manchester Champion Red History
same in size and shape as Sealey’s Leviathan, differing only in color
Sealey’s Leviathan History
very large, solid and white, superior
Seymour’s Superb White Solid History
large, grows vigorously
Turnip Rooted, (Celeriac) History
roots used for flavoring soups
Celery (Practical American Cookery 1860) History
Scrape and wash it well; let it lie in cold water until just before being used; dry it with a cloth; trim it, and split down the stalks almost to the bottom. Send it to table in a celery glass, and eat with salt only; or chop it fine, and make a salad dressing for it.
Celery Dressed as Slaw (National Cook Book 1856) History
Cut the celery in pieces about a quarter of an inch long. Make a dressing of the yolks of three eggs boiled hard, half a gill of vinegar, half a gill of sweet oil, one tea spoonful of French mustard, or half a tea spoonful of common mustard, with salt and cayenne pepper to the taste. Pour this mixture over the celery, stir it well and send to the table.
Stewed Celery (Cookery as it Should Be 1856) History
Wash and clean six or eight heads of celery; let them be about three inches long, boil tender, and pour off all the water; beat the yolks of four eggs, and mix with half a pint of cream, mace, and salt; set it over the fire with the celery, ad keep shaking until it thickens, then serve hot.
To Stew Celery Brown (50 Years in a Maryland Kitchen 1881) History
Fry in a skillet a small piece of bacon, a piece of fresh mean, and an onion. Cut up the celery in lengths of three or four inches, tie a string around it, and when the meat is cooked, put in the celery to fry. When done, transfer it to a saucepan, and pour in the skillet with the meat a pint of hot water, and let it stew until a nice gravy is made. Pour it over the celery, and let it all stew until dinner time. Remove the string before pouring on the gravy.
Celery Stewed with Lamb, French Fashion (National Cook Book 1856) History
Take six neck chops, crack the bone oeach across the middle, and put them into a stew-pan. Cut up and wash two large heads of celery, and mix with the meat; pepper and salt to the taste. Roll two ounces of butter in a little flour and add to it, with half a gill of water. Cover it closely, and let it simmer slowly till the celery is soft. Of the gravy stews away too much, add a little water, and if it should not be quite thick enough, stir in a little flour mixed with cold water.
Fried Celery (What to Eat 1863) History
Make a paste with two tablespoonfuls of flour, one of vinegar, a beaten egg, salt, and pepper; add to it the milk necessary to make a paste thin enough to dip the pieces of celery in, after being cooked in water; have hot lard in a stewpan on a sharp fire, and lay the celery in; fry it till of a golden color, dish it, dust it with fine sugar, and serve.
To Pickle Celery (Practical American Cookery 1860) History
Separate the stalks from the head; clean them thoroughy, and put them into salt and water strong enough to bear an egg; let them remain in this for a week or ten days, or until wanted to picle; then take them out, wash them well in clean water, drain dry, place in a jar, and pour boiling vinegar over, to which any approved spies may have been added. As is usual for pickling, eep it well covered with vinegar; if the celery is allowed to remain a long time in salt and water, it will be necessary to soak it in clean water for a day or two, changing the water occasionally.
Celery Vinegar (Cookery as it Should Be 1856) History
Dry and pound half a pound of celery seed, pour upon it one quart of the best wine vinegar, and let it steep ten days, shaking every day. This is very nice, ad has a fine flavour for salads and cold meats.
Essence of Celery (Godey’s Lady’s Book Receipts 1870) History
This is prepared by soaking for a fortnight a half ounce of the seeds of celelry in a quarter of a pint of brandy. A few drop will flavor a pint of soup or broth, equal to a head of celery.
Celery Soup (United States Cook Book 1859) History
Clean eight large heads of celery thoroughly, and cut them into fine slices, which slice must then be cut again into little pieces about the thickness of the back of a knife or into small diamond-shaped pieces, let this steam upon the fire with a quarter of a pound of fresh butter for a few minutes, add to this three ladlefuls of fine flour; after the celery and the flour have assumed somewhat of a bright yellow colour, pour two quarts of white soup-stock upon it, stirring continually whilst doing so. Let the soup boil till the celery has become quite soft; after this add to it four quarts of strong white soup-stock passed through a fine hair sieve.—Let it now boil up several times, taking care to skim it constantly and dish it on wheaten bread, cut into little die-shaped pieces and fried in butter to a pale yellow.
Celery Cream Soup (Harder’s Practical Cookery 1885) History
Clean and wash six heads of Celery and trim off all of the green parts. Cut the tender parts in small pieces, one inch long, mixed with two celery roots sliced fine. Parboil them for five minutes, then immerse them in cold water and drain and dry them. Then put the Celery in a saucepan, with a piece of butter, and season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and a pinch of sugar. Cover the saucepan and let it simmer until the moisture is reduced. Then add two quarts of white broth and a faggot of parsley, garnished with leeks and green onions. Let it boil until he Celery is well cooked. Add three quarts of Cream sauce. Rub it through a fine sieve and put it back in the saucepan to keep warm. Before serving it, add half a pound of butter in small pieces, stirring it all well until the butter is thoroughly merged in the soup. Also add some chervil chopped fine. The soup must not be too thick. Farina or vermicelli, cooked in white broth, may be added.
Celery Sauce for Roasted or Boiled Fowls (Southern Gardener & Receipt Book 1860) History
Take a large bunch of celery, wash it clean, cut it fine, and boil it slowly in a little water till it is tender; then add a little beaten mace, some nutmeg, pepper, and salt, thickened with a piece of butter rolled in flour. Then boil it up, and pour it in your dish. You may add half a pint of cream, and a glass of white wine.
Brown Celery Sauce (Frugal Housewife 1803) History
Take a large bunch of celery, wash and pare it very clean, cut it into little thin bits, and boil it soft in a little water till it is tender; then add mace nutmeg, pepper, salt, a piece of butter rolled in flour, with a glass of red wine, a spoonful of catchup, and half a pint of goody gravy; boil all these together, and pour into the dish. Garnish with lemon.