Photo and article by Donna Iverson
While I’m a dedicated community gardener, I’m a forager at heart. Any outdoor space is game, even the local farmers’ market.
So recently when I spotted this odd looking vegetable in a farmer’s market bin, I inquired of the vendor, “What is this?” “Celery root,” he replied. Say what ??
Searching my memory banks, I realized that I had heard of it but had never actually seen it. And I didn’t expect it to look like a rotted turnip. The farmer proceeded to extol its virtues and how it could be diced and roasted, added to soups, or grated into a winter salad. He didn’t have to sell me. I was sold at first sighting.
Although it is biologically related to celery, it is not the root of the common celery plant. Neither is it native plant, but rather it is indigenous to the Mediterranean basin. Harvested in winter, its closest veggie relatives are carrots, turnips and parsley.
And while it requires a long growing period of about 120 days, celeriac root can be grown from seed in Western Michigan. Baker Creek Heirloom seed catalog describes it as a “moisture loving Old World crop grown since antiquity. In the early 1900s celery root was the third most popular item in New York City restaurants,” the catalog reads. The first most popular items being coffee and tea.
Celery root (Celeriac) requires preparation before cooking. Begin by scrubbing the bulb from top to bottom and then remove the outer brown skin. While online directions recommend the use of a veggie peeler, I found that I needed a sharp paring knife. Then depending on the recipe, you can slice or dice it before cooking, or grate it for a salad.
As it is low in carbohydrates, it can be mashed with potatoes or used as a mashed potato substitute. I cubed it and added it to homemade vegetable soup which gave it a unique and pleasant flavor, vaguely reminiscent of celery, apples and walnuts.
As for storage, it can be kept for six to eight months in a cool dry place, like a basement.
Chef Rick Martinez of Bon Appetit calls it his “favorite vegetable. And if you can get by its ugly appearance, it is beautiful on the inside.”
As for me, I doubt I will be growing it in my community gardening bed, but will definitely purchase it as often as I find it at my neighborhood farmers’ market.