In some of our supermarkets recently you may have seen a large knobbly bulbous root about 12cm in diameter called Celeriac and never having tried this vegetable before, I bought one home and studied the books to see the various ways of preparing it. It looks much like a turnip but with a rougher skin. It is a winter vegetable and the fresher it is the paler it will be.
In its raw state it has rather a mild celery taste which I liked. I then cut it into julienne strips and blanched it in hot water with some lemon juice added to retain the colour as it will discolour very easily. Add it to a salad for a different flavour as you would water chestnuts, gingko nuts, capers, anchovies or cornichons. The French grate it or just-blanch it then mix it with mustard mayonnaise to produce celerirave a la remoulade. It can be added to soups or stews and the leaves can also be used in salads. I tried it boiled and steamed, but like turnip, I prefer it to be mashed with a little butter and other condiments added. Try it stir-fried or baked in a cheese sauce.
Celery and Celeriac (members of the Umbelliferae family) come from the same source – Apium graveolens – and both are bred from the original wild plant found in the Mediterranean area with other wild forms of celery found in Europe, Asia Minor and between the Black and Caspian Seas and reaching towards the Himalayas. Although it was mentioned in Chinese writings during the fifth century, it took another 1200 years before the gardeners of Italy, France and England started to tone down it s strong flavour through selective breeding and it was during this time that Celeriac was developed as one of the improved varieties. It was a common vegetable around 1700 and is a standard winter vegetable in Germany and eastern Europe.
Propagation and Growing Conditions:
By seed – have never seen seedlings around. In sandy soil, the bulb won’t develop, so it is best grown in heavy moisture retentive soils. They are gross feeders. Sow seeds in spring 40cm x 40cm apart and harvest in autumn. Like other plants in this family, it has a low and slow germination rate so use a generous amount of seed and hasten things along by placing the seeds on wet paper towels in a shallow plastic covered tray for a few days and keep in a warm spot (not the sun). When they sprout, mix with cornmeal or sand for easier handling and sow immediately just below the surface. Cover with wet hessian and don’t allow to dry out – remove when plants start to grow. Don’t plant deeply as the bulb must sit on the soil and not get buried. Those in warmer climes can also sow in autumn. 120 days to maturity. During the growing period, draw soil away from the swelling bulbs and tear off any side-shoots which may appear at the base of the plants as the crown needs to be exposed. Liquid fertilize weekly at this stage. A fortnight before the roots are to be lifted, the soil can be hoed up to the foliage to cause the upper part of the root to become blanched.
White Alabaster:(this is a newer variety that produces more uniform, larger bulbs than Prague). In overseas catalogues, there are also listed Apple, Claudia, Early Paris, Globus, Jose, Iram, Large Smooth Prague, Marble Ball and Tellus.