Heather Anderson writes a most interesting piece about, of all things, celery in TASTE magazine.
Most notable for its role as the log in ants on a log—or the garnish in a Bloody Mary—raw celery is the baby’s breath of crudités, the ligneous filler in the veggie tray, always stubbornly there, never really wanted.
But celery was once a great luxury—one of the most fashionable foods to grace the table. The wealthy served it as the centerpiece of every dinner, while the average middle-class family reserved it for the conclusion of holiday meals. No Victorian household was complete without a glass celery vase—a tall, tulip-shaped bowl atop a pedestal—to prominently display the vegetable. Love it or loathe it, celery was once as fashionable as today’s dry-aged rib eye or avocado toast.
Between the 1830s and the early 1900s, celery appeared as a standalone dish in countless cookbooks and housekeepers’ guides. It was served both braised and au naturel; it was presented au velouté (in a light gravy) and à la Espagniole (in a rich demi-glace). “Plain celery” as well as “dressed celery” (mayonnaise was de rigueur) were listed among the salads on a 1865 menu at the upscale Parker House Hotel in Boston.
Celery was served in a first-class cabin dinner with roast squab, cress, and pâté de foie gras aboard the Titanic.
The height of popularity for celery vases was from the 1830s to the 1880s, but they were still being made (and ostensibly foisted onto hapless young brides) well into the 1910s. For awhile, the vases coexisted peacefully with their counterpart the celery dish, a long, narrow, boat-shaped bowl somewhat resembling an inverted butter dish—more effective for serving cooked celery that was too flaccid to stand upright in a vase.