When I returned home from a summer of container gardening in E. Chatham NY, The Sweetie was kind enough to fill the car with some of the heavy pots I couldn’t bear to leave behind. I had bought a small lovage seedling in July and stuck it into the soil. I don’t remember eating any then; it probably got lost among the other plants I crowded into the container.
Then about a month ago, I spotted the lovage growing taller by the day in the corner of one of the pots. When I brushed up against it, I was reminded of a kind of celery I never knew–the kind that had real taste. It took a while for me to realize that this was lovage, an easy-to-grow perennial that was kind enough to make a re-appearance. Before long I started munching on it, mostly chopping up the leaves into salads for an herbal, celery-like crunch. On the other hand, the stalks are hollow and rather fibrous, best used to flavor soups.
I kept thinking: whatever happened to lovage? I remember reading about it in Elizabethan recipes and it was probably a regular in Shakespeare’s kitchen garden (most likely tended and watered by Anne Hathaway). It’s always listed as an herb, but it feels to me more like a vegetable. In any case, it’s got so much more spunk than watery celery–and most celery you buy these days comes beheaded–no tasty leaves to be seen.
So whatever did happen to lovage?
I went scurrying around to see what garden and food writers had to say about it: not much! I asked my Facebook foodie friends and lots of lovage-lovers came out of cyberspace to suggest adding it to egg and chicken salads and to soups, all fine ideas.
Nowadays, you have to grow our own lovage to get a chance to eat it. In THE KITCHEN GARDEN, the ever trustworthy Sylvia Thompson (whose work should be better known!) says, “Lovage looks and tastes like a wild celery…and the plant can grow 6 feet tall.” Mine is about 2 feet and growing–And even more of a delightful surprise, Thompson tells me I have much to look forward to: “Flowers are pale gold and tasty, and the seeds that follow are used as celery seeds.”
Stay tuned. It’s only mid-May and there’s going to be a lot more to love about lovage.
P.S. Be sure to look at the comment posted by Gary for a heap of fascinating information on lovage and suggestions for using it in recipes.