Celeriac – a variety of celery, Apium graveolens rapaceum, with a large turnip-like root, used as a vegetable. I like to grow a new vegetable each year and as I am rather partial to both celeriac and celery they were near the top of the list last year. I had attempted to grow celeriac in my previous garden and even though I had failed miserably, I thought it would be easier than attempting celery.
With naive enthusiasm I read the required treatise, bought some seed, sowed it in modules and waited and waited! It took 3 weeks for the seed to germinate! I have since discovered that unlike most vegetable seeds they need 15°C, so next year I might put them in the heated propagator. However the seedlings grow rapidly and they were ready to put into the garden at the end of April. The young plants were protected with enviromesh and left to grow on.
Celeriac is not too fussy, but likes a soil rich in organic matter and plenty of water. Normally the latter is not a problem, except this year when we had a drought. Although I watered as much as I could, irrigating my sandy soil is akin to a labour of Hercules so I was not too optimistic.The plants looked healthy with very dark green leaves but the bulbs remained puny. Another gardening experiment thwarted by the weather!
I’d just about given up when one or two plants started to bolt and as I began to clear the bed I discovered that there were some very respectable bulbs. So far the biggest has weighted in at almost 1.5 kg (trimmed). We all know that size isn’t everything but the smell was divine – earthy with the strong, green scent of celery and what I can only begin to describe as mineral undertones!
The modern varieties (I grew Monarch) produce a relatively smooth skinned bulb which is easy to clean and peel. I still have some plants in the garden and they have withstood the autumn gales well, although we had a comparatively calm autumn with nothing more than a couple of 50-60 mph blows. The flavour is excellent – it is more subtle and complex than celery, slightly nutty and with this mineral tang. Great for soups, mash or purée, roasted or grated in salad (the classic remoulade). For roasting it is better to par-boil in water for 5 minutes and for mashing add a dash of lemon juice and mix with potato or you can end up with a sloppy grey mash!
Celeriac purée seems to be one of the current favourites among the celebrity chefs, but the current favourite in the croft kitchen is celeriac soup – three ways of course!
P.S. – Celeriac is a slow developer, about 30 weeks, so you need to get in the ground no later than mid-May.