A Vegetable Jewel in the Crown:
Fenland Celery and Fenland Celery Soup Recipe
Celery, a simple vegetable, but with the unfortunate reputation of being served (stuck in a water-glass) as an accompaniment to those 70’s cheese board protagonists, Edam and Danish Blue, with cream crackers and a glass if Mateus Rose. But, celery can be so much better than this, although I am NOT saying that is doesn’t make a perfect partner to a large wedge of vintage Cheddar cheese, with a few fresh walnuts maybe. It’s yeasty, savoury taste works well in salads, soups, stews, casseroles and ragouts, whilst one of my favourite recipes uses it in cheese scones with surprisingly delectable results. Now, I have to own up here, when I was younger I wasn’t a lover of celery, it was that practice of serving limp and stringy stems of celery alongside dodgy, vacuum packed cheese that put me off! However, I am an avid lover of celery now and especially Fenland Celery.
I am glad that I am a fan of celery now, as it was the main ingredient in the recipe that came up for Dom’s Random Recipe challenge; this month Dom has allowed us to pick our own book, and then randomly open it to select our recipe. My random page showed several recipes, so Malcolm my husband was asked to choose one of them for my cooking challenge! It’s weird though, as I have made celery soup for one of Dom’s Random Recipe challenges before, but, I wasn’t too disappointed, as today was a raw, bitter February day, just the weather for soup which went down very well with some home-made bread I had made in the morning. The book that I picked is a perennial favourite and one that I often turn to for homely British recipes, “The Complete Farmhouse Kitchen Cookbook” , it was published to accompany a Yorkshire television series about twenty odd years ago. It’s a fabulous book, and although there are no colour photos, I love reading through it, almost like a novel! It has rather quaint and old-fashioned line drawings, which just adds to the culinary mystique of the book…….
Back to celery again; early types of celery were very bitter and it was mostly regarded as a medicinal plant from classical times through to the Middle Ages, when it was used to treat anxiety, insomnia, rheumatism, gout, toothache and arthritis.Around the 15th century, when it was known as ‘smallage’, a sweeter, more tender variety was developed and it began to be enjoyed as a vegetable in its own right. Then, during the 19th century farmers in the East Anglian Fens began to harvest celery around September, which they prolonged into the colder months (to get a better price) by covering it with soil – ‘earthing up’ – to protect it from frost. Celery’s popularity grew during Victorian times and it became a traditional salad vegetable to accompany the cheese board served at the end of meals over the Christmas period. However the season for Fenland winter celery field to plate was by its nature short and unpredictable, and people wanted more of it – for longer. About 50 years ago, varieties were introduced that could be blanched without being earthed up, by planting the rows close together.
They were also resistant to bolting to seed, so could be planted earlier. This paler ‘white’ celery was then available from July but the taste and shelf life of the old varieties had largely been lost. But, its reputation was further damaged by poor tasting celery imported in the winter season, as I mentioned earlier on. Over the last 25 or so years new varieties and growing techniques have been developed to achieve the desired ‘salad eating’ taste and appearance, selecting varieties with the best flavour and growing characteristics. Fashions change in food as in everything else and green celery became more popular. The greener varieties related to the old fenland varieties won through this selection process hands down and by happy coincidence they also had better keeping qualities. So green celery, now available all year round, is a direct descendant of the traditional celery. (Information courtesy of: http://fenlandcelery.com/)
After all that celery information, back to my soup recipe; I changed the recipe slightly by adding celery salt and some celery seeds, and I didn’t use any flour either, as I am not a lover of flour as a thickener in soups. But, the idea was based on the random recipe I picked, and I have to say that this recipe is a little stunner! There is just a little milk in it, and the celery certainly sings very loudly, helped along by the celery salt and celery seeds. We had this soup today for lunch, and it was truly delicious in a sweet, creamy and savoury sense, I could happily eat this soup for any occasion, whether it be a simple supper or for a formal meal. The recipe is below, and although the Fenland celery season has finished, do try this soup again in October, made with Fenland celery, just to see the difference it makes to the flavour. That’s all for today, have a wonderful evening, and I’ll see you tomorrow. Karen