Behold the heart of Thanksgiving – The Denver Post

Every November, celery performs countless tasks: It perfumes the holiday turkey, lending moisture from the inside out; it’s the backbone of the stock in gravy; it adds bite and vegetal flavor to stuffing.

But rarely does this tireless Thanksgiving staple get any thanks.

“It’s hard to make it the center of the spectacle, but on the back end, it’s everywhere,” said Ignacio Mattos, chef and owner of Estela, Flora Bar and Café Altro Paradiso in New York City. “It’s a supporting actor.”

Treated like a workhorse, celery does its job, but it’s so much more than a sidekick to Buffalo wings. Given the opportunity, these stalks shine — versatile enough to be enjoyed raw, simmered until silky or cooked to any state in between. Celery’s bright, citrusy flavors mollify with heat, and its stalks provide a prodigious range of textures.

Celery reigned supreme at the Thanksgiving table in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Raw stalks were attentively arranged in crystal vases created specifically for the purpose of showing off the era’s “It” ingredient. Ornate serving sets were considered incomplete without celery vases, until they were replaced by narrow, horizontal celery dishes.

“Celery was a status item for a long time in the Edwardian era,” said Amy Bentley, a professor of Food Studies at New York University.

For Americans of that time, celery was considered new and exciting. Dutch immigrants, who are widely credited with helping to develop the celery business in the United States, started growing the vegetable as early as 1874 near Kalamazoo, Michigan, which was subsequently nicknamed Celery City. Train boys and messengers sold celery to passengers on the railroad; the seeds were disseminated across the United States, and a celery craze ensued.

Good Housekeeping’s Thanksgiving menus from 1900 celebrate celery in every form: There was celery soup, the stalks blended with mashed potatoes and accompanied by peanut butter on brown bread. Boiled, then tossed with breadcrumbs to stuff the turkey, celery fortified the holiday centerpiece; its cooking liquid was used to baste the poultry. Prized for its crunch, celery was tossed with apples and mayonnaise.

Decades later, during Harry Truman’s presidency, braised celery was revered enough to get its own line on the White House menu for Thanksgiving dinner in 1947.

Celery’s popularity grew with its availability, until its success undercut its cachet: Celery became commonplace. (Perhaps it was doomed to a supporting part by the French, who acknowledged it as the flavorful bedrock of their cuisine by casting it with onions and carrots as a mirepoix staple.)

Knocked from its pedestal, celery settled into its current roles as crudité, kid’s snack and Bloody Mary garnish.