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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum, a large umbelliferous plant with yellow flowers, native to the Mediterranean region but able to thrive further north. It resembles celery and was for a long time widely grown for use as a vegetable or herb.

Alexanders is intermediate in flavour between celery and parsley, but with a bitter aftertaste which may have been diminished by the practice of earthing up and blanching the young shoots. It was used in medieval times as an alternative to, and in the same way as, the bitter sorts of celery then current. Evelyn (1699) commended the use of young shoots in salads or ‘in a vernal pottage’, while Caleb Threlkeld (1727) gave a recipe for an Irish ‘Lenten Potage’, a soup based on alexanders, watercress, and nettles; see Grigson (1955).