The tale of the worm bin celery

parsley flower

This is related to my recent post about our flowering radish. It’s a tale of botanic dumpster diving and another reason why you should let your food plants go to flower when you can.

Last year I threw the crown (which is to say, the bottom) of a celery plant in my worm bin. I probably should have chopped it up for the worms’ sake, but I didn’t. Later, sometime in the fall,  I rediscovered the celery crown. Instead of rotting in the bin, it had sprouted leaves and looked surprisingly vigorous. So I pulled it out and popped it into an empty space in one of our raised beds.

I didn’t have much hope. Celery doesn’t like our climate much, and I consider it one of those plants which is easier to buy than to grow.

To my surprise, the plant did quite well, though it did have a feral quality to it, despite its mild domestic origins. It didn’t grow fat, moist stalks which can be used to scoop up peanut butter. It grew stringy, dark green stalks which tasted powerfully of celery. It made excellent stock, and chopped into fine pieces, it was good in soup, too. Since I don’t eat much raw celery, this suited me fine.

All winter long I used this plant as the basis of my cold-weather cooking–chopped onions, carrots and celery in the bottom of every pot. It was a real treat not to have to buy celery for such a long time, and to have that flavor available whenever I wanted it. I should add that the leaves were just as flavorful as the stalks

As a side note, I’ve heard of a breed of celery made to work precisely this way, called cutting celery, but I’ve never grown it intentionally. The celery in this post looks very much like my homegrown “cutting celery.” Perhaps commercial celery wants to revert to this?

Months later, the hot weather arrived, the celery started to bolt (that is, send up flower stalks). When a plant bolts, it puts all its energy into flowering. At that point, its not much use to us as food. I was sad to lose my bottomless celery supply, but I was excited about the flowers.

Pollinating insects love celery blossoms. Actually, they adore the whole family of plants to which celery belongs, called Apiaceae or Umbelliferae (which I tend to call Umbrella Fae, which is wrong, but right in my head). This family includes carrots, celery, dill, coriander, fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, etc. If you can let any of this family bloom in your garden, do.

The parsley flowers grew almost as tall as me, and they were surrounded by clouds of tiny insects every day –shy, tiny little pollinators that I can’t name.

I love to let things go to flower and seed in the garden, because it is a way of giving back to the rest of nature. Flowers for the insects, seeds for birds. And by giving back, you help balance your garden. We’ve had significantly less issues with destructive insects since we learned to let our garden go a little wild.

Sadly, this celery never got to seed, because it collapsed under its own weight one day. Its thick, hollow stalks folded and the head of the plant fell to the patio.  I had hoped to save a little seed and try to grow a plant the next year from scratch. But now I’m thinking I’m going to throw a whole crown of celery in the worm bin this fall, and hope this happens all over again.

collapsed parsley plant

Secrets of Kimchi Revealed in Pictures

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Hae Jung shows off her special Kimchi gloves.

I spent this morning with Hae Jung Cho and Joseph Shuldiner going over some of the recipes we will be teaching at a hands-on workshop at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. Hae Jung showed Joseph and I how she makes kimchi. Here’s a few of her secrets starting with:

mini shrimp in kimci

Fishiness! Hae Jung said you can make kimchi without mini-shrimp and fish sauce, but it just won’t have as much umami.

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Then there’s the special hot pepper flakes that can be found in any Korean supermarket. They come in a course grind for kimchi and a fine grind for use as a general seasoning. Before the Portuguese arrived in Korea with peppers from the New World, kimchi was more like sauerkraut.

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Before stuffing the kimchi into a crock, Hae Jung showed us a way of folding the “sohk” (the mixture of the pepper flakes, fish sauce, mini-shrimp, onions, daikon radish, some greens, garlic and ginger) between the leaves of Napa cabbage that had first soaked in brine the night before. You don’t have to do the special folding, but it’s considered classy.

From this point the kimchi sits at room temperature for a day or two and then goes into the refrigerator. We packed it into a giant crock.

I’m really looking forward to tasting this!

There Will Be Kraut–Lecture on Fermentation at the Historic Greystone Mansion

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I’ll be delivering a lecture on fermentation as part of a two day fermentation fest put on by the Institute for Domestic Technology. From the description on the IDT website:

Let the kraut begin!

Healthy, tasty, fermented foods are the new “health foods”. Though ages old, fermented foods are nature’s natural way of food preservation, with an added twist: they’re good for you! See why über chefs of the moment are pickling, curing and fermenting their menu items from scratch.

Our guide for for the weekend Fest will be Erik Knutzen, Urban Homesteader, author and one of our popular Institute instructors.

Friday, April 26th ~ Saturday, April 27th

Kickoff Evening Lecture and Kraut Tasting: $20 ($25 at the door)
Friday, April 26th, 6pm ~ 8pm  |   Greystone Mansion Historic Library (Beverly Hills)
For tickets see the website of the IDT.

If you have never witnessed one of Erik Knutzen’s trademark PowerPoint presentations, you are in for a thrill. Not only are they educational, they are entertaining, subversive and also hysterical. Who knew fermentation can be so many things?

Erik’s evening lecture, especially prepared for KrautFest is entitled:
“Fermenting Revolution: how fermented foods can change your diet, your life and the world”

In recent years, there’s been huge interest in fermented foods, everything from traditional sauerkraut to kombucha. Health food stores even dedicate entire refrigerator cabinets to pricy “pro-biotic” supplements. Erik Knutzen, co-author of The Urban Homestead and Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, will give an overview of the world’s fermented foods and discuss how you can make your own. He’ll cover everything from sauerkraut to pickles to sourdough bread to the great kombucha controversy to the health benefits of fermented foods. He may even discuss arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen’s untimely death from eating fermented auk meat. The evening will also feature a special sauerkraut tasting.

The evening includes a kraut tasting and book signing.