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Ugly Duckling No More: Growing and Eating Celeriac
by Deb Terrill - September 2015

It may not have good looks, but celeriac can provide lots of good taste.

One would be forgiven for thinking celeriac was a disease. It’s not, however, and it is actually a pretty good root crop to have around for late summer and fall cooking. The name is bad enough, but the plant doesn’t get any better in person. The tan root is a twisted mass of somewhat hairy skin covering a pale flesh that is riddled with small holes, fissures and spots.


photo by Amelia Crook


photo by Deb Terrill

Getting past its unfortunate exterior and uncovering the slightly woody stuff inside yields the reward of a concentrated celery flavor in a crisp, non-stringy and less watery form. This flesh gives great flavor to soups and stews, and is pretty good as a salad too, especially in the form of the classic remoulade.

I decided to grow celery root, or celeriac, as an experiment in my plot at the Kankakee community garden. I bought seed, waited until April 1 to start the plants indoors, and set them out in mid-May. By the end of September, I was seeing heavy boles form under the dense leaves, and my natural tendency toward impatience got the better of me. I pulled most of them before realizing that had I waited two more months before the ground froze I’d have harvested a much larger root. Not to mention a sweeter one.

Those first roots were a mixed bag. A couple were approaching the size one would find at the grocery store, a few were smaller, and a couple were just roots; kind of fat roots, but just roots. Still, I cured them all in my garage and eventually used them all. They kept in my crisper for months and the one “lunker” I had dug around Halloween was still in great shape for remoulade in January.

I believe they are heavy feeders. The community garden plots are rich in compost, and in my garden I add rabbit manure and a heavy layer of chopped autumn leaves for a summer mulch. I stockpile the leaves over the winter for this use.

The rabbit manure comes from a local farm. They raise the rabbits and make the manure in two forms, a liquid and a powder. I have been using the powder. Rabbit manure is lower in urea than chicken manure and doesn’t burn, so it’s safer to use on gardens during the growing season.

The water is straight from the river and free of chlorine, fluoride and other chemicals in city water that can stunt growth or reduce yield. Even so, the roots were slow and steady, never popping seams the way so many other of my root crops have done. Two of the seedlings that I plugged into a perennial border at home didn’t do well at all, barely swelling at the base.

To try your own celeriac crop, sow the seed into moist potting mix in a plastic produce box that has been lined with a paper towel to prevent the soil from coming out the holes. Close the lid and place the box on a seed-starting pad covered with a thick towel and set on low. When the seedlings pop, take the box off the heat.

Place the seedling box in a cool place with high light until they have two sets of true leaves. Under a shop light that hangs just inches above the trays is best. At this point, you can prick them out and transplant them singly into individual peat pots, paper cups or juice cans. Or, if the last frost date has passed, you can plant them out into prepared garden soil.

It is said that celeriac needs at least 12 inches of personal space in the rows, but mine were more closely spaced and did well enough. It’s a pretty plant in the garden and asks nothing in the way of pruning, staking or tending.

Keep the plants well watered and feed them with compost and manure tea. Let them mature until at least October 1 before digging one to see if they are ready to harvest. If not, let them remain in the ground another month. Frost will only sweeten the roots. Don’t rinse the roots, but shake off the soil and let them cure on newspapers in the garage or basement for a couple of weeks. You may then trim off the foliage and root tip and keep the roots in the refrigerator.


In the Kitchen: Celeriac Recipes from Our Website



Celeriac Remoulade Recipe
Celery root is especially tasty in the form of the classic remoulade. If you've never tried it before, Deb Terrill's remoulade recipe is a great place to start. 
>> Celery Root Remoulade Recipe

 


Creamy Celeriac Soup Recipe
Celery root flesh gives great flavor to soups and stews. Impress your friends and family with a dish that's both unique and delicious.
>> Creamy Celery Root Soup Recipe


 

A version of this article appeared in print in Chicagoland Gardening Volume XXI Issue V.

 

 


A hands-on gardener for 30 years, Deb Terrill has written for a number of publications. After formal training in landscape design, she operated a landscape and gardening business and later became a syndicated columnist. She also monitors moths for The Nature Conservancy.

 

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