Aley Chubeza #224, November 24th-26th 2014

A new month!

The month of Kislev has begun, as the month of November comes to its end. At the end of this week, we will bill your cards for your November produce and endeavor to update the payment by the beginning of next week.

You may view your billing history in our Internet-based order system. Now it’s easy! Simply click the new tab “דוח הזמנות ותשלומים” where the history of your payments and purchases is clearly displayed.

Please make sure the bill is correct, and let us know of any necessary revisions. At the bottom of the bill, the words סה”כ לתשלום 0  (total due: 0) should appear. If there is any number other than zero, this means we were unable to bill your card and would appreciate your contacting us. Our thanks!

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Crunch Goes the Celery

“There ought t’be some way t’eat celery so it wouldn’t sound like you wuz steppin’ on a basket.”        

             -Kin Hubbard, The Sayings of Abe Martin

Under the procession of raindrops, we continue our Newsletter parade of winter vegetables, and this week’s spotlight is on…… celery!

Its name carries the exotic origins of the French “céleri,” derived from the Greek “Selinon,” of the Apiaceae family. Celery is distinguished by the fact that all of this versatile vegetable’s parts are edible: the round root, its crunchy stems, the nutritious leaves and its teensy, tiny seeds. Today, we will primarily discuss the leaves.

All celery types have tiny, miniscule seeds that take their sweet time sprouting. If you have ever attempted to seed them in your garden, do not despair! Make sure they are plenty moist and that you have a very long book to read while you wait patiently for some sign of life. Mr. Celery is even slower than his cousin the parsley, taking at least a month till he feels he’s ready to sprout. We cannot wait so long with the seeds under the earth, specifically since ruthless weeds are liable to cover the bed five times before allowing one little celery shoot to peek above earth. This is why we start with actual plants that have already grown in a nursery, at the prime age of two to three months.

And here they are, the young ‘uns in our field (to their left, the red lettuce, to their right- scallions)

Although celery is a native of the Mediterranean Basin, it has been carried upon the wings of history to reach almost every place on earth. Today the vegetable can be found in Southern Sweden, the British Isles, Egypt, Algeria, India, China, New Zealand, California and even unto the southernmost parts of South America. Celery has a long history as a wild plant, and a relatively short one as a cultivated variety.

Celery is first documented in literature dating back almost 3000 years (making it evident that celery has been around for even longer). It is first noted by its Greek name Selinon in Homer’s Odyssey, circa 850 BC. Probably the ancient celery was collected from the wild to be raised in private gardens for a variety of medicinal uses (see below), but not for edible consumption. In the Mishnah, in Shvi’it, it is mentioned as a wild plant (and therefore does not require a tithe) “… and the celery in the rivers… exempt from tithe.”

It was only in the 17th century that celery began to be used as a food and spice. It was cultivated by selecting the full and solid plants (not the hollow variety) with a milder, more subtle taste. Its growing season was carefully chosen in order to produce celery leaves and stalks more suitable for consumption, with a less dominant taste. Growing celery during a cold season refines the taste. In the 19th century, the Europeans tried tempering its taste by shielding the stalks from the sun, thus preventing the development of chlorophyll. To do so, they would mound earth upon on the celery, thus whitening it (sort of like whitening a leek or white asparagus). Today there are species which are independently whitened and produce yellowish celery, but even today’s green celery is mild-tasting.

There are, in fact, three subspecies of the celery, each grown to take advantage of a different part of the plant:

The subspecies dulce is celery grown for its crunchy stalks, and it is the most refined in flavor. The second, rapaceum, is grown for its root, making its stalks and leaves sharper tasting. And last comes the secalinum, resembling the wild species and grown in order to produce the miniscule celery seeds which are extremely spicy and strong in taste. This variety is also grown for its leaves, which – together with the seeds – are the most nutritious, useful parts of the celery with the greatest amounts of concentrates. Hence their strong flavor.

 

Back when it was a wild plant, celery was sanctified in classical Greece. Celery leaves were used as garlands for the dead, and wreaths for the champions of the Isthmian Games. The Romans, however, felt that in certain circumstances, celery can bring bad luck.

And yes, all those beliefs are well-rooted (excuse the pun), as this vegetable is indeed a powerful one. It contains phytochemicals (yup, them again) named phthalid,  which can relax the small blood vessels, reducing the excretion of stress hormones and therefore contributing to the balance of high blood pressure. In addition, it reduces the level of cholesterol in the blood. Research shows that celery seeds are helpful in reducing blood sugar levels and may be useful in treating diabetes. This is probably due to celery’s ethereal oil content, apiol, which is derived from the seeds and aids in promoting urination, relieving edema, disinfecting the urinary system and easing rheumatoid arthritis.

And though I found contradictory sayings regarding celery consumption during pregnancy– including the Talmud which states that a woman who eats celery during pregnancy will bear beautiful children (Ktuvot 61) – I think it would be more responsible to stress the recommendation to refrain from eating celery during pregnancy due to its tendency to cause uterine spasms.

Digesting celery is thought to expend more calories than the vegetable actually contains, which, in effect, makes celery a thinning food. (My thanks to veteran client Maya for this interesting information.) Aside from its lack of calories, celery contains a good quantity of vitamin K, folic acid and potassium. There are those who are allergic to the psoralen contained within celery, which can cause damage to DNA and become carcinogenic if one is exposed to sunshine after consuming the celery. This allergen is probably not diminished by cooking or baking.

I would guess that most of the celery stalks in our world fulfill themselves and their true calling in vegetable soup, and that’s how I used to use it as well… That is, till I moved to a moshav populated by folks of Kurdish origin, where I was exposed to the Riza Hamusta, the sour Kurdish rice. Since then, it has been hard to convince me to save some celery for the soup… but there are so many other uses for it. It’s great fresh and crunchy in a salad or in an invigorating, cleansing vegetable juice. Be creative! In our recipe section we even have a recipe for celery pesto.

Tips for using celery:

To keep celery fresh (this holds true for any bunch of seasoning herbs):

–       Wash and dry completely, or don’t wash at all. Wrap in a cloth towel and place in a plastic bag or sealed container.

Or:

–       Clean under running water, remove all loose leaves or unattractive stalks, and place in a large vase with lots of cold water. Within a couple of hours, the stalk will look like a beautiful bloom. This way you will be surrounded by freshness, and you’ll remember to use the celery instead of letting it wilt in the refrigerator.

Wishing us all a wet, refreshing week,

Alon, Bat Ami, Maya, Dror and the Chubeza team

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WHAT’S JOINING THE CELERY IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?

Monday: Pumpkin/sweet potatoes, kohlrabi, curly lettuce, tomatoes, leeks, parsley/dill/coriander, cucumbers, cabbage/broccoli, Swiss chard/totsoi/spinach. Small boxes only: Daikon/turnips, fennel/corn/eggplant

Large box, in addition: Celery, beets, beans/lubia/Jerusalem artichoke, carrots, arugula/mizuna

Wednesday: cilantro/dill/parsley, spinach/Swiss chard, cucumbers, curley leaf lettuce/arugula, tomatoes, broccoli/cabbage, kohlrabi/fennel, carrots/sweet potatoes, leek, slice of pumpkin, small boxes only: daikon/turnip.

Large box, in addition: Celery, beets, beans/lubia/Jerusalem artichoke, kale/tatsoi

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Recipes:

celery pesto

Green Apple and Celery Salad with Walnuts and Mustard Vinaigrette

Thai Celery Salad with Peanuts

Homemade Cream of Celery Soup