Civil War Recipe: Creamed Celery

Celery is a master of disguise when it comes to taste and presentation.

The leaves have a very slight bite and make a nice “herb” to add to all kinds of dishes, plus making a pretty garnish. Logical, since celery is related to parsley. (Check out the history of celery and a few cooked dishes.)

celery

Celery top and bottom.

 

Grandma Vera Anderson liked to dip raw vegetables into a little pile of salt on her plate, and it is still indispensable on a crudite tray.

Celery and carrots with salt on Grandma Vera's butter plate

Celery and carrots with salt on Grandma Vera’s butter plate

When my sons were little, they could be conned into eating celery if I stuffed it with peanut butter or Cheese Whiz. Now I’ve graduated to more sophisticated spreads, like this dried tomato cheese spread.

stuffed celery

Stuffed Celery. Take your pick: sun dried tomato cheese spread or peanut butter

Now that I cannot eat onions, I tend to double up on chopped celery in stews, stir fries and such– to get the little crunch you get from onions that I have to omit.

But what I do not do, is cook celery alone as a side dish. Why not, I wondered, when I saw a recipe for stewed celery in the Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book. I  vaguely remember the taste of creamed celery, so maybe grandma cooked it some time. This recipe was published in Godey’s in 1862, so even though I doubt that Anna Butts was a magazine reader back during Civil War days, it probably was a common enough method that she would have known about it. And I imagine she planted celery in her garden. And I know that Hattie Morgan Stout was reading Godey’s, along with her mother Mary Morgan, for whom it was a lifeline to civilization.

This delicious and economical  recipe, like so many from the 19th century, is vague on details, so I am going to quote the recipe verbatim and then give you my version and some notes on why I made changes. It seems that the bitterness that called for stewing of celery in milk and adding lemon has been bred out of the modern plant, because I do not think of celery as bitter at all.

To Stew Celery

Take off the outside, and remove the green ends from the celery; stew in milk and water until they are very tender.  Put in a slice of lemon, a little beaten [grated or ground] mace and thicken with a good lump of butter and flour; boil it a little, and then add the yelks of two well-beaten eggs mixed with a teacupful of good cream.  Shake the saucepan over the fire until the gravy thickens, but do not let it boil.  Serve it hot.

My Version of Creamed Celery

Creamed Celery

Serves 4-5
Prep time 55 minutes
Cook time 45 minutes
Total time 1 hours, 40 minutes
Allergy Egg, Milk, Wheat
Dietary Vegetarian
Meal type Side Dish
Misc Serve Hot
From book Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey's Lady's Book

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Milk
  • Water
  • 1 bunch Celery (2 stalks per person)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mace (plus some to sprinkle on top)
  • 3 tablespoons Butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cups cream

Directions

1.
Peel celery and slice the stalks. (Save leaves for garnish). Put stalk pieces in saucepan
2. Add one cup milk and enough water to barely cover.
3. Simmer until celery is tender--about 1/2 hour. Watch to be sure it does not boil.
4. Add mace.
5. Put flour and butter in small dish and mix with fingers until all flour is absorbed. Break off pieces and add to celery and liquid, stirring over low heat until thickened to the point of coating spoon, 5-10 minutes.
6. Beat egg yolks with cream, add slowly to warm celery and liquid, stirring as you add. Heat only long enough to warm the whole dish and thicken a bit more. Do not boil.
7. Put in warmed serving dish and sprinkle with some more mace.

Note

I have eliminated the lemon slice called for in the original. I tried it when I cooked this and it curdled the milk. (Of course!)  Plus, I did not think the lemon taste added anything.

Mace is another part of the same plant that gives us nutmeg. I like it very much. It has a slightly milder flavor. But feel free to substitute nutmeg.

I wound up with a lot more sauce than was necessary. If I were making it again, I believe I would pour off some of the milk/water that the celery is stewed in before adding the other ingredients.

I used only seven stalks of celery and it made enough for two servings and seconds, but if cooking this again, I believe I would use a whole bunch of celery. It takes a bit of work to make this, the leftovers are delicious, so why not have planned overs?

 

 

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.