My windowsill garden is going nicely. I have a sage plant and a bunch of celery, the requisite scallion ends shooting up into the sun. But something about it feels lacking. The scallions are housed in old shot glasses and jam jars, and while the celery is in an engraved ceramic pitcher, it still feels on the shabbier side of shabby-chic. If we’re going to grow our own greens centimeter by centimeter we should at least be doing it with style. It’s time to bring back the celery vase.
To the Victorians, celery was the caviar of vegetables, rare and worth showing off if you had it. According to Atlas Obscura, it’s because the Mediterranean plant wasn’t cultivated in England until the 1800s, and it was difficult to grow in the cooler climate. Celery was also popular in America, where some 19th-century etiquette guides suggested keeping celery in a pressed-glass vase in the middle of the table as a centerpiece until it was served. Cookbooks of the era included dozens of recipes for celery, whether it was braised or au gratin or just dipped in mayonnaise. One from 1916 includes a recipe for “Celery in Glass,” which basically instructs you to wash and trim the celery, and present it in a vase before serving raw, and another from 1865 includes instructions for how to keep it fresh.
The popularity of celery dovetailed with new developments in glass technology, and by the 1840s, “pressed tablewares were being produced in large matching sets and innumerable forms.” Glass vases, narrower at the base with a fluted top, meant the fresh green (or pink) of the vegetable could be clearly seen. But just like all trends, the celery vase lost favor, partially because celery became more widely available, and partially because, according to The Steward’s Handbook and Guide to Party Catering (1889), “having become so exceedingly common they are discarded at present at fashionable tables, and the celery is laid upon very long and narrow dishes.” It’s like that mug with a handlebar mustache you bought in 2012 — it’ll take a long time for that to be cool again.
What makes celery vases cool now is not the rarity of the plants (though fresh produce does seem like a luxury right now), but the rarity of the situation. There is nothing actually special about growing food — people were doing it long before they were practicing social distancing. But what’s actually novel, and gives us something in common with Victorian aristocracy, is showing off just what you’re growing. A celery vase allows you to not just have scallions for weeks, but make your home, which you are likely leaving less and less, a more beautiful place to spend time. And now that virtual interactions are what most people are relying on, it’s something to differentiate your Instagram stories from the numerous other scallion-regrowers out there. Everyone may have a window garden, but yours could be the one entirely in cut glass.
Vintage “celery vases” are all over Etsy, eBay, and antique shops. Here’s one that actually looks like celery, but with a deranged face. You may notice that these look like many vases you already have in your house, which you can absolutely use if you don’t feel like buying a vessel solely for something that, despite all your regrowing, is 90 percent going to become stock anyway. But there’s something delightful about fussy Victorians insisting this vase was for celery only. It’s that kind of proper specificity that elevates “regrowing scallions” to “displaying my prized greens for the enjoyment and envy of my
guests cat.” Make your victory sill look truly victorious, give your glorious sprouts the pomp they deserve.
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