In the early 1990s we were living in the Cement Belt of the Lehigh Valley and I befriended a retired, old-boys club of gardeners. Bent grew vegetables, Florian raised prize-winning chrysanthemums, Frank filled his gardens with dahlias, Peter had amazing blueberry bushes, and Dick could sharpen any garden tool known to man—or woman.
Bent carried a thick Danish accent and a love for the vegetables of his childhood in Denmark. When I visited his garden in Danielsville I always learned something. What he learned from me was that I had reached middle age without hearing of or tasting celeriac—knoldselleri in Bent’s mother tongue. “Celery root?” he would admonish me. I just returned a blank stare. It was like telling an Irishman I had never heard of potatoes.
Bent got his way. Eventually, I was growing celeriac and cooking with it. But with the busy-ness of a young family, celeriac and I parted ways. Last January I went to a winter farm market and was reacquainted. An Amish farmer had a large display of celeriac and I was happy to find local produce in our frozen Centre County winter.
I bought Giant Prague celeriac seed from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company and by March 1 seeded a flat of celeriac—planning to pickle chunks of celery root with my Jerusalem artichokes and carrots (more about them later) for this coming winter.
The seedlings took off. Then I took off, for Belgium, leaving the young plants for my sister to get into the garden. Upon my return, I tended the peppers and tomatoes and beans; the celeriac was off in its corner, doing its thing. The rabbits got the carrots.
Celeriac has a long growing season and a long history. It has been used in Egypt, Greece and throughout Europe for culinary, medicinal and religious purposes. Why, it was even mentioned (as “selinon”) in Homer’s Odyssey in 800 BC. It’s no beauty, and perhaps that is why it has never caught on in this land of America the Beautiful. But, for the busy or lazy gardener, it provides a celery taste without the difficulties and blanching of regular “leaf celery”.
This past week, with memories of Bent bubbling to the surface, I harvested some of my celeriac crop and will leave the rest in the soil until frost. Washed, cut, and trimmed, it only lasts about a week in the refrigerator. I put the trimmed leaves (tasting like its cousin, parsley) in a plastic bag in the freezer for winter soups. After paring off the gnarly, brown roots, root hairs, and skin, I sliced the white flesh into ½”-thick slices and sautéed them in olive oil until tender, then sprinkled with salt and pepper—celeriac steak, if you will. Celeriac can also be grated, sprinkled with lemon juice to preserve its creamy color, and served raw in a salad, but I will pickle a lot of it. For long-term storage, the whole plant, roots, stalks and leaves, is covered with sand and kept in a cool root cellar where it will last all winter. Laurie Lynch
Farmers Market Horror Stories: Farmers markets are one of my favorite destinations, in this country and abroad. But the old caveat, Buyer Beware, has crept into my casual stroll from one vendor to the next, sampling chunks of orange watermelon or oatmeal breakfast muffins.
There is a local farm market stand that sets up a tent in a nearby strip mall parking lot, April through Thanksgiving. The market offers baked goods, egg noodles, jams, jellies and pickles, as well as bountiful crates and bins and pecks of produce. I knew that one family, no matter how extended, couldn’t produce all that was there, but I figured the wide variety was just a symbol of their entrepreneureship—that they were offering other products from their local community.
In the spring I buy their shelled peas and spinach, and in summer, corn on the cob, peaches and watermelon, and a tiny cantaloupe called Sugar Cube. Fall brings apples, pear jam, cabbage-stuffed pickled peppers, and these little pecan pies the size of a silver dollar. I avoid their baseball bat-size zucchinis and carrots, and heads of lettuce that weigh more than a small child. But on Saturday, I was drawn to the carrot bin.
“They finally figured out how to grow carrots,” I said to myself. The carrots were long, thin, and tapered—and I was in my pickled-vegetable mode. I selected a half dozen. As I was waiting to check out, I saw a young fellow walk to the carrot bin to “refresh” it. He broke open one of the two plastic bags in his arm and dumped it in. Long, thing, tapered carrots. He reached for the second bag to do the same. “Product of Canada” was written on the bag.
Now I have no quibbles with Canada. It is a lovely country. But it is not “local” to Central Pennsylvania. I feel cheated.
Which brings me to another farmers market. It was August. I heard a voice call, “Oh, garlic scapes!” as a woman rushed to the stand. “Yes, we keep them in the refrigerator,” the young girl said.
“For two months?” I thought to myself. The woman went home with her prize—stiff, woody, petrified garlic scapes. I doubt she’ll be back for more, even in June when they are at their prime.
My Musical Education Continues: The other night I dragged my mother to yet another evening meeting. This was with a new group, so we started with circle introductions. I usually introduce my mother, but this time the introductions started across the table and went clockwise. I didn’t even have time to worry about my mother introducing herself. She stood, flashed her wide smile that lights up her entire face, and sang, “I’m Marie the dawn is breaking.” I had never heard that before, but it brought a laugh from the group and the meeting went on.
When we got home, I rushed to my computer and typed in: Marie the dawn is breaking. Bingo! Marie (The Dawn Is Breaking) was written by Irving Berlin, and published in 1928, the year of my mother’s birth. It was the theme song in the film “The Awakening” starring Vilma Blanky. In 1929, Rudy Vallee’s recording of Marie hit No. 2 on the charts. By 1937, Tommy Dorsey’s Orchestra took it to No. 1. Frank Sinatra, The Inkspots, and even Willie Nelson continued bringing Marie (The Dawn Is Breaking) to airwaves, dance halls and my mother’s mind.
Written On Slate: “Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves, we have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!” –Humbert Wolfe