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Thursday, October 27, 2011


Madame de Pompadour at her...
Photo by: renamototest5
Gr. sélinon, L. Apium graveolens, Ar. karafs Fr. celery, ME. smallage, Eng. celery. It is believed that the plant is a native of the Mediterranean but that is not confirmed. Greeks and Romans thought the plant an aphrodisiac. Centuries later, Madame Pompadour tried the theory when she “invented” celery soup to revive her inflamed relations with Louis XV. Spaniards, who drank the soup in the Middle Ages, countered saying that a nice bowl of celery soup will make anyone urinate. Celery is a diuretic. Spaniards came to know celery during Roman occupation of Spain. Apicius uses it whole including the root in his puréed recipe, which is a laxative. He added the greens in other recipes. In other recipes, he calls for it but does not specify which part is used. Avenzoar instructed that celery, fennel and lemon balm could be eaten before and after meals without causing any harm. Then plant lost morbid connotations applied to it during the early Middle Ages and became an important summer food for celery has no calories. To eat it, the body must use up calories. It grows throughout Spain and on the Balearic Islands. During the late Middle Ages, it took on the significance of good luck, mental powers, lust and psychic powers. The root is rich in Vitamin C. It is good for liver, kidney and bladder problems and rheumatism. Although Perry claims that the thin stems were thought inedible for their bitterness until the 16th C. in his translation of Anon Andalus, he demonstrates that the MS calls for them in three recipes for drinks. The leaves are used for their fragrance in four other recipes. They are pureed or simply boiled as a vegetable. As garnish, the branches are sliced. The seeds are added as flavoring for a fish dish, a drink and murri, while the juice was added to a recipe for lamb and prunes. Fadalat uses the sprouts in a baked fish dish. There is some confusion about celery in cookery books of medieval Spain because at times they call for “ancient celery,” which in fact is parsley or “celery of the mountain,” a plant similar to fennel. Wild celery was eaten until the 17th C when Italians began cultivating it. It is interesting to note that many items which fell into disuse after Roman occupation were brought back during the Muslim occupation but celery is not mentioned in the medieval MSS from Catalonia. Villena includes it in his list of herbs but does not elaborate on it. [Anón/Huici.1966:10:20:69:50:192:123 etc; Apicius/Flower. 1958:III:IV:5:75:III:XV:2:85:IV;V:1:119 etc; Ibn Razīn/Granja.1960:287:28; Ibn Zuhr/García Sánchez 1992:92; Simonetti. 1991 :15; Stuart. 1987:154;and Villena/Calero. 2002:23a]

serves about 12


2 large bunches of celery
1 tsp baking soda
A Delicious Change in Greens
Photo by: Lord-Williams
snorkel mask and snorkel
2 onions (use red for color and strong taste)
*1/2 tsp lovage seeds
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp oregano
½ tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 c white wine
**1 tbsp Byzantine murri
1 tsp salt or to taste

Separate the celery stalks. Wash them well and quarter them horizontally. Set a few leaves aside for garnish. Put them in a large pan, add baking soda and cover with water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. In the meantime put on mask and snorkel. Chop onions. Grind lovage seeds and cloves. Heat olive oil in a non-stick frying pan because the murri sticks. Add onions and the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer for about 5 minutes until onions are tender.  Discard water from the celery or save it for another recipe.  Chop the celery and puree it in a food processor. Combine the puréed celery with the onion mix. Stir all together, salt to taste and heat until warm. Serve in soup bowls and garnish with celery leaves. Coutons can be added but the cook ate them before the photo was taken.

*Celery seeds or caraway may be used as a substitute.
**See almori for recipe.


  1. We have not the results of Pompadour's experiments... surely she didn't cook herself, because it should not have been very sexy to appear before the king with the snorkel (or perhaps it was, and she invented fetish before Sade did...). Anyways, it is strange that in Spain we only use the bunches, and not the root, a very common ingredient in Italian and middle-east European kitchen. I'll try the puré and let you know privately...

  2. Surely Madame Pompadour had an army of cooks to prepare exotic dishes to entice her king. This is one she missed. My kings are in love with me for enticing them with this delicacy!