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All About Celery Seed

by Sandra Bowens

When Europeans refer to the seed of the wild celery plant as "smallage," they must be thinking of the size. The flavor and aroma of the celery seed are anything but tiny. In fact, you must take care in seasoning with celery seed to avoid overpowering a dish. Used properly, it will offer a warm taste with a slightly bitter aftertaste.


Although related to the vegetable celery we purchase by the stalk, this little, brown seed is actually the fruit of Apium graveolens, a member of the parsley family. The sturdy herb with familiar celery leaves and clusters of white flowers is cultivated primarily for its seeds which are produced in the second year of growth. One successful acre of plants will yield about 500 pounds of seeds.


Much of the celery seed available to us comes from India but small amounts are also grown in China, France and California. The French variety is more mild than the somewhat bitter seed from India and China.


Celery seed has been known as a food item only since the seventeenth century. Prior to that, it was cultivated for medicinal purposes. Romans and Greeks associated the seed with funerals and looked at it as an omen of bad luck. The plant has been found woven into garlands discovered in Egyptian tombs. Today, it is used in India as a nerve stimulant as well as a tonic.


A common ingredient in pickling, celery seed accents a wide variety of foods. Beyond the typical tomato juice or vegetable salads, think of it for fish, eggs or meat dishes. Celery salt is a mixture of ground celery seed and table salt deemed almost essential to a Bloody Mary cocktail.


HINT: Stir a bit of celery seed into your next cole slaw or potato salad dressing for extra zest.



Hot German Potato Salad


1 1/2 pounds potatoes, Yukon Gold, if available

2 slices bacon, diced

1 medium onion, minced

1 Tablespoon flour

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon celery seed

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon dried parsley


Boil the potatoes whole in enough water to cover them until tender, about 30 minutes; drain. When cool enough to handle, peel potatoes and slice into a serving bowl.


While the potatoes cool, cook the bacon until crisp.  Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened.  Stir in the flour, sugar, salt, pepper and celery seed; cook and stir for 1 minute.  Stir in the water and vinegar; cook until thickened.  Stir in the parsley.  Pour this mixture over the sliced potatoes, toss and serve immediately.


Makes 4-6 servings



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