Since wild celery is native to the Mediterranean, growers didn’t start cultivating the vegetable in eastern England’s wetlands until the early 1800s. But celery didn’t grow easily, which made it a luxury and all the more enticing for upper and emerging middle classes in the Victorian era.
Naturally, those who succeeded in growing or obtaining the fickle vegetable wanted to show it off. Celery vases became status symbols. In the late 19th century, wealthy ladies used them as centerpieces, sometimes adding a special celery dish to serve cooked versions that wouldn’t hold their shape. Glass-blown celery vases—featuring embellishments like fluted edges and often bearing the owners’ names on the bottom—made for popular gifts to newlyweds.
Like most fads, the celery vase’s popularity led to its demise. Manufacturers started mass-producing them, and advances in agriculture made the vegetable easier to harvest. Celery wasn’t so special anymore. As chef Jessup Whitehead wrote in his 1889 book, The Steward’s Handbook and Guide to Party Catering: “The tall celery glasses set upon the table form the handiest and handsomest medium, but having become so exceedingly common, they are discarded at present at fashionable tables, and the celery is laid upon very long and narrow dishes.”
Today, celery vases exist mainly in antique stores and museums. But given that celery’s making a comeback as a health food, perhaps the celery vase will, too.