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.