Showing Vegetables at their Prime - Celery
23rd Sep 1998
Ideally all vegetables should be left until the last minute before pulling and washing in order to have them as fresh as possible in front of the judge. Of course it's not possible to do this if you are exhibiting a vast range of vegetables. It's worth remembering though that, unlike pot plants, once you pull a vegetable from the soil, it's effectively dead and all you can do is to try and keep it as fresh as possible from that point on.There are a number of ways you can keep them as fresh as possible and one obvious tip is to keep them out of the direct rays of the sun. Place them in the shade or better still in a cool garage and cover them over with clean moist tissues or old towels.
I think that celery should be one of the last vegetables to be cut, as it retains so much moisture that it can very quickly lose the crisp condition that is so essential on the show bench. Examine your celery thoroughly before cutting, taking great care to push the stalks to one side in order to make sure that there is no heart rot and that a flower head is not starting to form. If you stage celery with either one of these faults then you will be very lucky indeed to win a card. Tie the foliage together before removing the head, using a sharp old bread knife to cut around the roots just clear of the base of the plant.
Carry the plant to where you are going to wash it and do make sure that you wear long sleeves to protect your arms. I have experienced "celery burn" on more than one occasion and it's not a pretty sight; it"s also quite painful for a number of weeks afterwards. It seems to happen to me whenever I forget to roll down my shirt sleeves. As you carry the celery or hold it in your arms to trim the base, the stalks rub on the skin and form large red blisters. This is worst for me on hot sunny days and sweaty skin seems to be more vulnerable to blister.
Plenty of running water is a must if you are to clean the celery properly and better still if you have it running through a high pressure nozzle to clean out every trace of dirt. Rub the stalks clean again using some liquid soap and a soft sponge; what a treat it is to see the clean sparkling stalks come to life. I leave what's left of the roots still on the plant and wrap the whole root ball in some damp clean cloth until I arrive at the show. The stalks are also covered with damp towels which helps to retain moisture as well as protecting the tender stalks during transit.
Once at the show, find the class and place a black cloth on the table and then leave the celery on the cloth until just before judging. Finally, remove the wrapping from around the roots and start to trim them off. You will be left in the end with no visible roots, only a clean white core shaped neatly with a sharp knife into a sort of wedge shape. Leaving the final trimming of the roots until the last minute certainly helps as the core only remains white for a very short time before turning to a brown colour. Remove the damp towels from around the heads and have a last look into the heart to make sure that there is no heart rot. I have seen celery develop heart rot between being cut from the garden and being judged so don't be caught out. Finally leave the damp towels still on the celery, the stewards will remove them after you have left the area. Do remember that your exhibitors card has to be left under the exhibit, face down, as well as a variety card which helps the visiting public if they want to grow that variety.