In Season: Drying Celery

IMG_5959I harvested celery yesterday. Celery will freeze, wilt, and then rejuvenate as the temps rise later in the day, but I didn’t want to push my luck with anymore 20F nights.  Some vegetable, such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, parsley, sage, thyme, and mache, seem to have built in antifreeze–some frost improves their flavor. It gives you a little leeway when you are harvesting like crazy ahead of the frost and trying to preserve or store large amounts of produce that is ruined by frost. Some vegetables will hold in your root cellar or refrigerator for months after harvest, for example, kohlrabi, cabbage, winter squashes, and anything you pick green and ripen indoors like tomatoes.  Others must be canned, frozen, or dried.

I have been drying herbs and some fruits and vegetables. Right now, I have the last of the IMG_5961basil drying on the dining room table and celery in my two electric dryers. My dryers are very simple: round plastic racks that stack over a base with an electric heating element and a vented lid on top with which I can vary air flow. I’ve tried other more complicated dryers with fans and thermostats but have found that this simple design best meets my needs.

There is almost no waste to celery. I use all parts of the plant except for the roots. The first celery I grew and dried years ago was called cutting celery. The stalks of this celery never get thick like the celery you buy in the grocery store and they are very tough. They are bred to be used to flavor foods with their greens. I started some of this type of celery this year but missed a watering at a crucial time, and all those seedlings died on me. Celery isn’t forgiving if you forget to water it. You also don’t get your best growth if the soil isn’t rich and the roots have plenty of room to grow. Celery has a robust root system, and I have had better luck growing it in the ground than in containers.

I grew three varieties of celery this year: yellow, giant red, and a common green. The yellow celery had the tenderest stalks, but I grew it in a container and couldn’t keep up with it’s water needs when we had a droughty period in middle and late summer. I did cut some of this celery for daily use but ended up harvesting the giant red and common green varieties for winter storage and cooking now.

IMG_5960Harvesting was easy. I simply cut the stalks of celery near the ground with a sharp knife, threw away any yellowed portions, and gave it all a good shake to get rid of any passengers before bringing it into the house. Once I had it in the kitchen, I cut the lower stalks away from greens and washed away any dirt from under running water. These stalks I stored in the refrigerator for use fresh in cooking.

Fresh celery for cooking.

Fresh celery for cooking.

I didn’t wash the greens before I put them in the dehydrator, (This also goes for the herbs that I dry.) They were clean for the most part, and if any part was caked with dirt, I discarded it. I also watched for and discarded any leaves that had bug eggs or were discolored. I chopped the leaves and remaining stems coarsely so they didn’t easily fall through the dehydrator’s trays.

Overloaded dehydrator tray.

Overloaded dehydrator tray.

I was careful not to overload the trays. I kept the greens fluffed so that air could flow through them. The greens dried very quickly, but any stems in the mix did dry

Properly loaded dehydrator tray.

Properly loaded dehydrator tray.

more slowly. Trays with no stem pieces were done before the others, so I stored them first. (The leaves remained crispy when cooled.) I lightly packed the dried celery in glass, air-tight jars and stored them in a cool, dark, dry place.

If kept in the right conditions, your celery will be good for a couple of years. Use it in soups and stews and to flavor broths. You will be glad you have it in your pantry when the price of grocery store celery skyrockets in the off season! BegoniaIMG_5968

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