"The thought of 2,000 people crunching celery at the same time horrified me"
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(Apium graveolens var. dulce)
By contrast, Gertrude Stein, in Tender Buttons, inscrutably observed: "Celery tastes tastes where in curled lashes and little bits and mostly in remains. A green acre is so selfish and so pure and so enlivened."
Native to the Mediterranean region and cultivated there for over 3,000 years, celery in its wild form is called smallage, and it is grown to this day for the flavoring of its seeds.
The ancient Greeks called it selinon and regarded it as a holy plant. As such it is mentioned in Homer's Odyssey, dating from 850 BCE. Less known is that celery leaves were worn by the winners of the Nemean Games (just as bay leaves were worn by winning athletes at the Olympic and Pythian games): these games began in 573 BCE and were held every second year in the small southern city of Nemea in the Peloponnes, where Hercules achieved one of his great labors by killing the Nemean lion.
Romans preferred eating sedano to using it ceremonially, but they still viewed it superstitiously, believing that it could bring bad fortune under certain circumstances.
A member of the carrot family, celery is first recorded as a plant in France in 1623 and was probably developed either there or in Italy.
Its seed was brought to Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the 1850s from Scotland, and it became a commercial crop there, grown by Dutch settlers.
Celery consists of a bunch of petioles, or leaf stalks, rather than a main stem. Celeriac, or celery root, is the starch-storing lower stem of a special variety of celery and is commonly used as an esteemed marinated julienne first course of dinner.
The seeds of celery are a different story altogether. They are the dried fruit of that wild smallage, and they are so small that it takes some 760,000 to make just one pound. But they make up in punch what they lack in size: they are intensely aromatic and strongly flavored with an oil made up of the glucoside apiin, with lemony limonene, and other bitter compounds.