Local Harvest: savory seeds make flavorful additions to fall cooking

by Denise Reynolds, Enchantress of Spices for HAALo

I was recently gifted with two home-grown seed spices from Gene Mesick to play with in the kitchen. For the past few years Gene has been growing and harvesting bronze fennel seed and celery seed. Since I've generally only used fennel seed in my Indian cooking and to make tea, and celery seed is a spice I haven't used at all, I was eager to introduce them into my culinary playground.


Celery Seed

First, I did a little research on celery seed. This "seed" is actually a fruit. It’s from a different variety of the celery plant than is used to harvest celery stalks. It is suggested as a quick alternative or addition in any recipe that calls for celery.

We may think of celery as a humble culinary addition though it is a mainstay of several flavor bases, such as the French mirepoix, the Cajun "holy trinity," Old Bay Seasoning, and poultry seasoning.

Celery seed is like a stronger version of celery, and avoids the stringy fibers when they may be an undesirable addition to a recipe, such as in a soup purée.

The scent is complex, pungent, and citrusy, and smells like a combination of dill pickles and bitter orange. The smell brings me back to the pungent and medicinal smell of Tempe Wick's House, a colonial era house I grew up visiting in New Jersey. As with many herbs and spices, it has many therapeutic benefits from being a diuretic to supporting the liver. It has also been shown to act as a mosquito repellent.

The taste of celery seed by itself is strong, bitter, astringent, a bit numbing, salty and has a hint of what I can only describe as roasted lemon peel. If my description of its scent and taste doesn't seem appetizing, let me add that it is precisely the polarity of its flavors that add richness and complexity to a dish. Like salt, it creates harmony by pulling flavors together without covering them up. It's best to use it ground since it can be a bit grainy and intense if left whole.


Bronze Fennel Seed

The bronze fennel paired nicely with the celery seed in roasted delicata squash I made over the weekend. Butter, salt and fried sage leaves sprinkled on top made for a flavor bonanza!

Gene grinds the bronze fennel in small batches since the seeds have a strong flavor. This makes it easy to sprinkle into various dishes like the ground lamb dish I made to go with the squash – in a base of sautéed onion, chicken broth, pureed tomato, and a bit of port, I added ground cumin, lots of ground coriander, cinnamon, and a hint of ground cloves with slivered almonds, currents, and chopped apricots. Delish!

The fennel added such warmth, and worked well with the cinnamon to tie the savory and sweet flavors together.

Fennel is another spice that is a key ingredient of several ethnic spice blends such as North African ras el hanout, Chinese five spice powder, French herbs de Provence, and Indian garam masala. Its warm and sweet scent has a coziness about it but with a high perfumy note, that creates such a unique signature.

Its widespread use in spice blends is a big indicator of its ability to harmonize a dish, just like celery seed. And fennel is widely used to calm stomach upset, so your meals have a built in digestive aid.



Rather than give you recipes this week, I'm going to encourage you to play with celery and fennel seed. Gene will be harvesting the seeds, grinding small batches, and bringing them into HAALo by the end of October. Come and try out these local culinary playmates.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Try ground celery seed in salad dressings with a little minced onion, garlic, and Dijon mustard.
  • Try a raw bulb-fennel salad (paper-thin slices on a mandolin) tossed with Meyer lemon juice and zest, salt, chopped fennel greens, and then sprinkled with ground bronze fennel seed.
  • The subtleness and aromatic nature of tarragon goes well with each of these. I’m going to try this trio as a rub for my next roasted chicken.

I'd love to hear what ideas you come up with during your culinary playtime! Enjoy!!


Denise Reynolds, The Enchantress of Spices, is a culinary sensualist and founder of The Sensual Feast. She consults and teaches cooking workshops offering the opportunity to delight in the preparation, flavor, and deep nourishment of food as a gateway to pleasure and sensuality.

Learn to experience the kitchen as sacred space and how, as we play in the kitchen, we have the opportunity to inspire our lives again and again with every meal.

Check out her Facebook page The Sensual Feast for event details and the following video for a little taste of her classes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5MXuMp1oA0

«  Previous Post:   | 
Next Post:  »