History of Celery

Celery has been used for thousands of years, although at first more for medicinal purposes than for cooking.

The Middle Ages

Early types of celery were very bitter and it was mostly regarded as a medicinal plant from classical times through to the Middle Ages, when it was used to treat anxiety, insomnia, rheumatism, gout, toothache and arthritis. Around the 15th century, when it was known as ‘smallage’, a sweeter, more tender variety was developed and it began to be enjoyed as a vegetable in its own right.

19th – 20th century

In the 19th century farmers in the East Anglian Fens began to harvest celery around September, which they prolonged into the colder months (to get a better price) by covering it with soil – ‘earthing up’ - to protect it from frost. Celery's popularity grew during Victorian times and it became a traditional salad vegetable to accompany the cheese board served at the end of meals over the Christmas period. However the season for Fenland winter celery was by its nature short and unpredictable, and people wanted more of it - for longer.

Modern Celery

About 50 years ago varieties were introduced that could be blanched without being earthed up, by planting the rows close together. They were also resistant to bolting to seed, so could be planted earlier. This paler ‘white’ celery was then available from July but the taste and shelf life of the old varieties had largely been lost. Its reputation was further damaged by poor tasting celery imported in the winter season.

Celery Today

Fashions change in food as in everything else and over the years, green celery became more popular than the traditional white variety. In the last 25 or so years new varieties and growing techniques have been developed to achieve the desired 'salad eating' taste and appearance, selecting varieties with the best flavour and growing characteristics. The greener varieties related to the old Fenland varieties won through this selection process hands down and by happy coincidence also had better keeping qualities. So green celery, now available all year round, is a direct descendant of the traditional celery.