Though it is pretty enough in the garden, celeriac wins no beauty contests on the kitchen counter. The edible part is a knobby root, and its thick skin must be cut away before the cream-colored flesh is revealed. But if your favorite part of celery is the carefully pared bit at the end, celeriac, its close relative, is for you.
Celeriac is no harder (or easier) to grow than celery. Young plants should be set just after frost, though they are somewhat frost-hardy and only minimal cover is necessary in the event of a freak late frost. Celeriac wants humus-rich soil and copious water. Any dry spell creates a disappointing harvest. Though full sun pleases it best, a half-day of shade will produce a good crop. Competing weeds must be kept down, but cultivation should be shallow.
Celeriac should be left to grow to the last possible moment before the hard autumn frost. With good culture, each root should be the size of a small cantaloupe—enough for two to four people. Cleaning celeriac is perhaps the hardest part of growing it. Cut away the basal roots and rind first, then wash it in cold water. It discolors quickly, so plunge the peeled knobs into acidulated water until it is time to cook. Try celeriac sauteed in olive oil, mashed with potatoes, or roasted with other root vegetables. Stored well, celeriac stays in prime condition from harvest through April. Sever the tops, but leave the basal roots dangling and do not wash them—the dirt acts as a preservative. Store in plastic bags in the refrigerator’s crisper. Clean and peel just before cooking.