We take celery for granted. Many 19th century people didn’t. Some wealthy ones used it for a status-enhancing decoration. I didn’t know this until I took a tour of Edwards Place in Springfield, Illinois. Celery was displayed like a bouquet of flowers in Helen and Benjamin Edwards dining room because it was difficult to produce. Their portraits are below.
Celery is a long-season crop that is, for sure, tricky to grow. Some call it the most difficult of all crops because it requires good soil, cool temperatures, and lots of water. If it doesn’t get enough H2O, stalks will be small and dry. It cannot tolerate heat and resists transplantation. It can usually handle only one light frost. It’s a winter crop in The South. Today California produces about 90% of the celery we eat, and this state can normally grow it year-round. A long-season plant is one that needs a relatively long time to mature. Alaska is not a good place to plant celery.
Celery is an ancient plant. Homer, the blind Greek writer who gave The Iliad and The Odyssey to Western Civilization, called it “selinon”. The English word we now use comes from the French word céleri. If you are vulnerable, celery can induce a severe allergic reaction like peanuts cause in many children. For some, eating celery brings on anaphylactic shock that can be fatal. If you don’t have the allergy, it can be thought of as a health and diet food. Good for humans, it contains antioxidants and helpful enzymes and can lower cholesterol. It’s a fine source of Vitamin K.
Helen Dodge Edwards had a long friendship with Mary Todd Lincoln. She and Benjamin, whose house was important in Springfield’s 19th century social and political life, attended the Lincoln wedding in 1842. The sofa that Mary sat on when Abe proposed to her is now in Edwards Place’s parlor at 700 North 4th Street. If you want to see it and the house, check before you go because a major 2nd floor renovation was about to begin when Ruth & I were there not too long ago.