2.06.2012

A whole new celery

There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you, but I haven’t been sure how to say it. I was worried for a while that you’d think it’s weird or, worse, boring. Then I remembered that you guys dig this kind of thing as much as I do (I love you, internet friends!), so really, what am I waiting for?

Friends, meet celery.



I know. You think you’ve met before. At that lunch, or that picnic, or that party, or most likely all of the above. You’ve been bumping into celery your whole life long. The celery I have for you today, though, is not that celery. It’s not the celery that’s chopped into egg salad or the mirepoix on its way to soup. It’s not the stalk sticking out of your Bloody Mary (though that doesn’t sound half bad on this Monday morning), and it is emphatically not the celery of ants on a log (which does sound bad on this and every morning). This celery is Jane Grigson’s celery with butter and salt. It’s a whole new celery.

I found this celery in a book that I picked up for $1.25 at a library sale last year. The book, by English cookery writer Jane Grigson, is called Good Things. (One of which, I might add, is the use of the word “cookery” throughout.) The library was overrun with some seriously aggressive book seekers that day. People swarmed the tables and snatched at books left and right. It was all very Supermarket Sweep, at once entirely uncivilized and entirely fun, and left no time for standing around flipping pages. I read only the first line of this promising title: “This is not a manual of cooking, but a book about enjoying food.” Sold.

In her introduction, Grigson warns against forgetting “the true worth of the past, the long labouring struggle to learn to survive as well and as gracefully as possible.” To help us with the remembering, she loads up her pages with all manner of good things, from “Kippers for breakfast,” to “Mrs. Beeton’s carrot jam to imitate apricot preserve,” to “How to make the most of asparagus.” Grigson is smart and succinct, warm and quietly funny, and has me utterly in her grips.

I’ve never felt particularly strongly one way or another about celery, but she describes so winningly the “fine pleasure of buying celery in earthy heads,” its “high and grateful taste” (she’s quoting the 17th-century diarist, John Evelyn, there), that I immediately felt the need to indulge in some “first-class celery.” I peeled away the outer ribs and set them aside for soup and went right for the hearts. I slipped some butter into the “channel” (as she calls it) of each rib, then added the salt flakes. The softened butter tasted positively warm against the celery, crisp, sweet, and cold. I eyed the new food in my hand. That's how it felt: new. So this is celery! Celery enthusiasts of the world, show yourselves! I walk among you, now.

More good things of late:

:: An artist who creates stuffed animals out of children’s drawings. (via Dad)

:: An interview with Joan Didion.

:: A photo by my friend Lecia from last summer. I keep coming back to it.

:: Brioches filled with apricot preserves at Hi-Rise Bakery.

:: An e-mail from my dad with something Wendell Berry once wrote: “It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.” (From his essay, Poetry and Marriage)

:: This.

:: Her.

Celery hearts with butter and salt
Adapted from Good Things by Jane Grigson

That I have anything further to say about this simple combination of celery, butter, and salt may seem ridiculous, but the details really do matter here.

About the celery: The outer ribs can be stringy, bitter, and tough. Peel them away and use only the hearts. That’s where you’ll find the sweetest, most tender ribs. You’ll want your celery cold, so use it straight from the fridge, or soak it in ice water for 10 minutes (then thoroughly dry) before serving.

About the butter and salt: “Care must be taken with butter and salt,” Jane Grigson writes in this recipe, and she’s right. You’re really going to taste the butter and salt here, so choose what tastes best to you. I like the flavor of Kerrygold butter and Maldon salt flakes, so that’s what I used. Let the butter warm to room temperature before spreading.

32 comments:

Miss T said...

oo, I am a mad celery fan. Smear organic peanut butter down one of those reserved ribs and life will get a little bit better all of a sudden. Praise the butter and salt!
T x

BF said...

I love celery, too. Glad I could get that off of my chest.
Thanks for this - what a brilliant idea.

(in case you haven't tried it, Nigel Slater's baked celery in cheese & bread crumbs - from "Tender Vol. 1" - is also excellent)

Julia said...

well damn this sounds good. i've been on the lookout for new snacks and this sounds perfect. also? "a book about enjoying food" sounds perfect too. a good find, indeed.

Molly said...

This kind of blows my mind. I've never been a celery person. But I might have to take your word for it and give it a try. After all, everything is better with butter. Also? That picture of Mia is gorgeous. She is the most adorable of all of ever. xo

Sara said...

I've only ever really had celery with peanut butter, but this post is so enthusiastic I might just give it a try.

(Sorry for just jumping in here, we've been Flickr contacts for a while, and when you posted this photo I saw this link to your blog.)

Molly said...

It's been a few years since I read "The Year of Magical Thinking," but I still think about Didion's smooth storytelling when dealing with something so heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing that interview. It made eating my lunch at my desk into so much more. Kind of the way a little butter and a sprinkling of salt transformed celery hearts into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Sarah said...

Since I don't think I'll ever get excited about celery, I wanted to just drop a note to thank you for the Wendell Berry reference. That entire essay may preoccupy me this week.

megan said...

This is nuts. But easy enough for me to try it.

The book sounds wonderful, what's the date on it?

xx
megan

linda said...

celery: simple, pure, basic & unadorned…i like that.

mia is absolutely magnificent & looks so very happy!

Katie said...

I developed an appreciation for celery recently at lunch at Prune in New York: celery salad with blue cheese on toast. Simple. Delicious. The celery was sliced thin, on the bias, tossed with some sliced scallions, and coated lightly in fruity olive oil and salt. A piece of toast with a thick slab of creamy, buttery blue cheese on the side.

Michele | Cooking At Home said...

Sometimes the simplest form we've never thought of is the best. Baking celery brings it to a whole new level.

Rivka said...

Whoop! There it is. Just as you described it - simple, pure, delicious.

A Day That is Dessert said...

I never liked celery as a kid, though my mother was a devoted fan (lots of unwelcome after school snacks involving celery). I've warmed to it in the last year or two. This sounds good!

Mia warms my heart.

Stacy said...

Celery with butter and salt? I am thoroughly intrigued! Well, until I get a few stalks of celery in my possession, I will dream of eating brioche whilst reading Wendell Berry--such a brilliant man!

Deb W said...

I'm delighted you have discovered 'Good Things'. I am old enough to have bought a first edition and love it - I had a friend who always called it "the book that made me fat".

Tracy said...

I'm going to put this in my Amazon cart.

Pia said...

this post is laden with lovely things - buttery celery, didion and the sweetest, tongue-out chubby cheeks :)

alanachernila said...

Oh, celery. Thanks for the reminder! And Jane Grigson too- one of my favorites, but it's been too long since I picked her up again. Today then- thanks for that.

Clarice said...

Thank you for the link to the Joan Didion interview. I found it really helpful.

redmenace said...

I'm so delighted you referenced Supermarket Sweep. I was just discussing the show with Kirk. I wanted to be on that show! True confessions. Celery, eh?

It's something I don't think about often except when I'm looking to add crunch. I trust you, however, and now I must try this! Send some hugs and kisses to your wee one too. xoxo

art and lemons said...

I admit, I am a long time celery enthusiast and after reading your this post, I can't imagine how I survived this long without eating celery hearts just so. I'm going to fix that immediately, since there is, of course, celery in the crisper drawer and butter and salt at the ready.

How lucky you were to have found Jane Grigson's book at a library sale among the most serious of library "sweepers."

And that Mia is a lovely little peach.

Always a pleasure to return to your site.

Hannah said...

What a treasure at a library sale! I am such a fan of Jane Grigson - this celery/butter/salt creation sounds divine and I'm making it today (and pulling my "Good Things" off the shelf to see what else I've missed).

Thank you for sharing your good things list!

Gail said...

Hi Jess, Just want you to know that I made Amy's Kale Soup last weekend and it was soooo very good, especially after a little "aging in the fridge". I did make a few substitutions though. I didn't have chick peas but I did have some Italian sausage. Smashing a few of the beans really does make a difference too.

Oh, and "SHE" is just too cute for words--enjoy--those first eighteen years fly by, ask me how I know.

Carolyn's Mom

Jess said...

Hellooo there! Pardon my absence - all three of us were struck down this week by a minor plague. Oof. Happy to report that we're all better now and back on solid food (or copious amounts of milk, in the case of little M). Glad to be back here.

So. Celery. You people like celery! Who knew?

Miss T - Peanut butter and celery, oh yes. A classic. I read here that some people call it "ants on vacation." (Personally, I'm not so into the raisins as ants imagery.)

Brian - No, I haven't tried that recipe. Thanks for the recommendation.

Julia - It's a great book. I think you'd like it a lot.

Molly - Yep, celery. Try it. You'll like it.

Sara - Hello! No need to apologize, of course. I'm happy to see you here! Thanks for jumping in.

Molly - I'm glad you enjoyed the interview. Some of what she had to say about non-fiction writing surprised me.

Sarah - I know what you mean. I haven't read much Wendell Berry, but that is about to change.

Megan - The essay appears in a book called Standing by Words. I have a copy waiting for me at the library now. The copyright on the book is 2005. I'm not sure when the essay itself was written. (If it's listed in the book, I'll let you know.)

Linda - Mia says, "Thanks!" (Yes, she's a very happy kid.)

Katie - Well. I'm speechless! Celery salad, you say... I know what's next for me and celery.

Michele - You're the second person to mention baking celery. I'll have to try it. Brian (above) recommended a Nigel Slater recipe with cheese and bread crumbs. Do you have a favorite? I'd love to hear.

Rivka - Ta da! (Hi!)

Lecia - Thanks, friend. I can't wait for you and Mia to meet in person.

Stacy - That brioche + Berry is precisely my plan for tomorrow morning!

Deb W - It really does feel like a discovery of the best kind. (A first edition, wow!)

Tracy - Do it. It is right up your alley.

Pia - I know - those cheeks! I love them.

Alana - My pleasure. I keep returning to the book, myself. Often just to read a page or two over a cup of tea, or when I take a break from work in the middle of the day. It's that kind of book.

Clarice - I'm happy to hear it. I think it's always so generous when artists take the time to let people in on their process.

redmenace - I don't know where that Supermarket Sweep image came from. I haven't thought about that show in years! I used to watch it when I was home sick from school. What a funny idea for a television show. You would have been a champion sweeper, I'm sure.

art and lemons - Thanks for your note, Nikki. Yes, the book was a lucky find. No one even tried to fight me for it. (To be fair, it's not in the best shape. Yesterday, it actually split in two along the binding when I opened it, so now I have Good Things in, uh, two "volumes.")

Hannah - Another Jane Grigson fan! I am obviously painfully late to this party. Enjoy the celery!

Gail - Hi! So glad you enjoyed the soup. It sounds like you gave it a serious facelift. Italian sausage? Hubba hubba. Lucky, lucky soup. (I owe you a note - to say the least. Thinking of you, and sending much love. xo.)

Mary Elizabeth Liberty said...

HI Jess
So nice meeting you Saturday, and now reading your blog, and finding out your story, I'll return your springform ring tomorrow~

and by the way, I still like ants on a log.

Jess said...

Hi, Mary! Yes, so glad we met. Funny about that ring mix-up, eh? I'll give yours to M when I see her on Thursday. Happy Tuesday!

Breige said...

So utterly simple but delicious! I also love saving the celery hearts and using them for soup, a great way to add extra flavour.

Julia @The Roasted Root said...

Other than bumps on a log, I can't think of a better use for celery! Clever!

El said...

It actually sounds good. Then again, everything is better with butter ;>)

Tamar Genger @JoyofKosher said...

This is so funny, I have recently been getting into celery too. Last year I went to a cooking demo where the chef put thin sliced celery into the salad after peeling it and I loved it, it opened up a whole new world and I do it all the time now. My celery from chicken soup used to go limp in my fridge, between salad and my son has started to enjoy ants on a log it gets eaten. Thanks for this, I will try it.

Anonymous said...

simply dropping by to say hey

Anonymous said...

simply dropping by to say hi