Wild celery, or smallage, is an ancient, hollow stemmed, leafy plant. It’s different than lovage, which is milder and sweeter. Bitter and intense in flavor, wild celery was used medicinally, in religious ceremonies, and as a flavoring agent by Egyptians and Greeks. Its seeds were used as a condiment, and the roots were considered a delicacy in the Middle East. Milder celery varieties appeared in the early 1600’s, thought to have originated in Italy, where farmers mounded dirt on plants as they grew to produce lighter colored, tenderer stalks. Modern celery is self-blanching. In 1623 cultivated celery is first mentioned by the French horticulturalist Olivier de Serres. The Chinese, who were using wild celery since at least 5th century A.D., developed their own celery varieties with thinner, more strongly flavored, juicier stalks.
Celery root, or celeriac, in its present form dates back to the early 1600’s, when larger roots were developed from the wild plant. This knobby root is a different plant from celery proper. Its rustic look belies it’s subtle, delicious flavor. In prime season August through March, celery root is adaptable to many uses, raw or cooked. Once peeled, store in acidulated water to preserve its creamy color. Beyond classic Remoulade, consider a more Waldorfian blend with apples, walnuts and celery. Try a toothsome mixed root slaw with colorful purple kohlrabi, scarlet turnips, or rainbow carrots in the mix. A creamy, smooth celery root puree is perfect for your winter plates, and a lush soup hits the spot in cold weather. Paired with long cooked meats, a rich mixed gratin with celery root, potatoes and yams is enticing. Janet Fletcher, in her book, Fresh From the Farmers’ Market, has a great recipe for steamed mussels with celery root and aioli. Georganne Brennan makes a colorful, interesting blood orange and celery root salad beautiful served over mache, frisee or Belgian endive. Last, consider a wintry leek, potato and celery root tarte tatin.
Q&A with local farmers
Featured Farmer: Christine Coke (pictured here with her son, Olivier)
Featured Farm: Coke Farm
Location: San Juan Bautista, California
Buy and Eat Local: Within 95 miles of San Francisco
Working with GreenLeaf since: 1984
Specialties: Celery root, braising mix, baby beets, Meyer lemons, lettuce
Earliest Food Memory:
Liver – the one I hate the most … liver and spinach. I was a skinny, anemic baby and my mother thought that was what I needed. On a sweeter note, mashed carrots, oh, and chocolate!
It’s fun, never boring. I learn new stuff every day.
Favorite Celery Root recipe?
Celery root remoulade. I’m Swiss and it’s a deli staple back home. When I got here there was none and when Dale asked me to marry him I told him he would have to grow lots of celery root. He agreed and it’s one of our staples. I use lots of lemon juice and sometimes walnut oil.
Wearing so many hats. Beyond all that’s entailed in growing, there’s mastering human resources, accounting, sales, prioritizing and balancing it all with personal life.
Coke Farm Snapshot: Coke Farm has been producing outstanding organically grown fruits and vegetables for over thirty years. In August of 1981, prompted by a doubting conventional farmer who speculated that strawberries could not be grown organically, founder Dale Coke planted his first strawberries on the home ranch near Aromas, California. Dale started planting more crops and joined the Santa Cruz chapter of C.C.O.F. (California Certified Organic Farmers). Coke Farm expanded by growing more and different crops, selling more organic produce to local stores and to the San Francisco Bay Area restaurant trade. By 1990 Coke Farm had grown to a 200+ acre farm, harvesting over fifty crop varieties each year and shipping daily out of a cooler on site in San Juan Bautista.
FARM TO TABLE
Featured Chef: Roland Passot
Featured Restaurant: La Folie, Left Bank Group
Working with GreenLeaf since: 1987
Earliest food memory?
Boiled pig ears and tails, salted, with mustard. As a young boy I spent summers at my Grandfather’s huge garden, near Lyon in Sainte-Chamond. We would awaken excitedly with the sun at 5 a.m., snack on the pig parts, then go to work weeding, planting, picking. He had two broomsticks secured together with a can attached to one end, and we would stick this up in the old apricot trees (which looked giant as a kid) and shake the ripe fruit into the can. It was the best fruit I’ve ever tasted.
Favorite winter vegetables?
Musquee du Provence/Fairytale Squash, Parsnips, pureed, in custard, lobster,
2012 Outlook?To find, keep and encourage good employees to create a good experience for our diners, in the dining room and on their plates. To keep on touch with industry trends to stay in touch and be inspired.
I see a strong, great year. We remodeled our kitchen, and are very busy. Go 49’ers, and next is the American Cup. We have a vibrant restaurant scene that’s great to be a part of
Celery root panna cotta/custard w/smoked duck tongue, served with duck breast.