What’s Fenland Celery all about?
Fenland celery is paler in colour due to the cultivation method which prevents the sun touching the stems and turning them green, earning it the nickname of ‘winter white celery’.
The earthing up process also gives the celery a unique ‘nutty-sweet’ flavour.
The growing method also allows us to keep more of the root, which has exceptional flavour, and is traditionally trimmed to a pencil point.
In Victorian times, celery specially grown in the Fens for the Christmas market (available from mid-November to New Year’s Day, depending on the weather) was extremely popular.
It started out as an artisan product specially grown for the London markets. The celery travelled straight from the fields to Shippea Hill station near Ely where it was sent to London by rail. Once there, the cold, dry and frost-proof conditions of the railway arches in the markets were considered to be the perfect storing environment. It was as late as the 50s and 60s when the lorry became the vehicle for taking the celery to market.
It was grown in very wide rows split by deep trenches – this allowed for the black Fen soil to be banked up around the celery to protect it from frost and ‘blanch’ it, which is how it has also come to be known as white celery.
This traditional method, which is very labour- and land-intensive, gives the celery a unique ‘nutty-sweet’ taste.
It has been revived in recent years by G’s, who have been growing celery in the Isle of Ely in Cambridgeshire for 50 years, and is available from October through to mid-late December (weather permitting).
Fenland celery is harvested by hand using a specially shaped knife – it is a complex operation as the banked earth first has to be loosened by a special machine, and then the celery is carefully cut to retain plenty of the root.
The main variety of Fenland Celery grown by this method is Dwarf White, which was developed in the Fens over 100 years ago. The shorter stems give you more leaf, which can be used for extra flavour in stocks, soups and stews.
Immersing most of the celery in the rich Fenland soil as it grows gives it a unique ‘nutty-sweet’ flavour and a less stringy texture, whilst still delivering celery’s famous crisp crunch.
The growing method also allows more of the root to be kept; an exceptionally flavoursome section of the plant that can often go to waste.
October to December
Find out what to cook with it tomorrow.
For more information on Fenland Celery visit www.fenlandcelery.co.uk