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I found some celeriac!

Mashed celeriac

A few weeks ago, I wrote here about my curiosity about the root vegetable celeriac, which I had never had. I was thrilled to find some yesterday at the Whole Foods store in Winston-Salem. I bought two of them.

I understand that celeriac can be prepared in many ways, raw or cooked, including roasting or making it into a slaw with apples. For my first experiment with celeriac, I decided to treat it like mashed potatoes. I boiled the celeriac for about 25 minutues, then mashed it with butter, cream, and salt. It was delicious.

Though the taste obviously can be compared with celery, I don’t think I can compare the texture with any other vegetable. Some online recipes suggest puréeing the celeriac in a food processor, because it doesn’t mash as smoothly as potatoes. To me that would be a mistake, because I like its texture.

The history of celeriac is fascinating. It was familiar to the ancient Greeks, and it was mentioned by Homer. It became very popular throughout the Mediterranean and made its way deeper into Europe. It’s new to most Americans, including me. We might think of it as occupying the potato niche in Europe before Spaniards brought potatoes to Europe in the 16th Century. When I took my first bite of my mashed celeriac, it seemed strangely familiar and ancient, as though, if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I had eaten it in past lives.

I hope that celeriac will become better known in the U.S. after the recent film “The Taste of Things,” in which celeriac appears twice — first in the garden, and later in the kitchen. There is a celeriac recipe in my 1948 edition of a Scottish cookbook that was first published in 1925. It’s called “celery root” or just “celery” in that cookbook, as though celery root was better known in Scotland than the above-ground celery stalks and leaves. They are different plants, though of course they are relatives.

I was able to find some celeriac seeds (on eBay), and Brittany and Richard, from whom I buy vegetables each week, are going to try to grow some for me. The seeds are tiny. According to the last report I had, after three weeks in their greenhouse, the seeds still had not sprouted. I still have some hope. Brittany and Richard say that they don’t think they can grow celeriac profitably, because it takes a long time to mature. But they’re growing some partly as an experiment, and partly for me. If celeriac was easy to find hereabouts, it would always be on my grocery list.

In the bin at Whole Foods. It was between the parsnips and rutabagas at $2.99 a pound. The label identified it as organic and grown in Canada.

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