“Ugly.” That’s what I thought of when I first laid eyes on celery root.
It was several years ago. A friend of mine had cooked one up for a party. She served it rather unceremoniously out of the pot and bid her guests hack off their own pieces with a paring knife. Not really a party food, celery root.
Your average celery root is about the size and shape of a small Nerf football, with gnarly outside skin the color of dirt and inside flesh the color and texture of a parsnip. Even uncooked it looks a bit like a genetic mistake —some weird cross between the celery we’re accustomed to coating with peanut butter and an out-of-control turnip.
Celeriac (or celery root) is related to celery, but turns out to be the ancient parent rather than the wayward offspring. Instead of putting its energy into its stalks, its root does most of the growing, and its root is what one bothers to eat — when one bothers to eat celery root.
Have I sold you on celeriac yet? Not really? I could add that it is very commonly eaten in Europe, but I realize here in Del Norte County, we don’t exactly look to the old country for culinary leadership.
I will tell you what I think celeriac is good for — because it does stand out for me in one regard. It has rather remarkable healing powers. I think my friend the acupuncturist would attribute that to its “yin” nature.
As a root, it is considered female, receptive, yielding and nurturing. And it comes into season in the colder months, just when we need it most. With fall weather arriving this week on the coattails of the storms, many of us have been scouring our cupboards looking for comfort foods. That’s celeriac’s main claim to fame as far as I can see: it heals.
Like many people, I was home sick this week. With me, though, it wasn’t the flu, but the sorrowful and slow malaise of a miscarriage. Losing a pregnancy early in the first trimester is a dreadfully lonely experience. It takes several days — days that you just want to pass quickly. But at the same time, you recognize that you are the sole mourner at a funeral that never was, and you owe that life force some attention and respect.
When I had the strength to raise myself up from bed and drag myself to the refrigerator in search of food, I kept running into the celery root I’d bought at Safeway on a lark. I held it in my hand for a while, and then returned it to the fridge. It called to me over and over until I had the strength to turn it into soup.
I used some lovely potatoes and leeks from Ocean Air Farms, chicken stock, an apple and some seasoning. I cooked it all down into one big pot overflowing with yin.
I’m not claiming that celery root will cure the common cold or heal a broken heart, but it kept me company as I pulled myself out of the depths.
That’s about as much as we can expect from any vegetable, attractive or not.