I hate throwing out unused food. Sometimes I buy a package of celery, use a couple stalks for a recipe, and then no one remembers it until it has lost its firmness. Can I refresh it, like lettuce, by placing it in water? Is it ok to eat celery that has reached that stage, or should I consider it fodder for the compost pile at that point?
Celery is certainly easy to tuck away in the refrigerator and forget about until it either wilts or molds. If it molds, then there’s no question it’s fodder for the compost. However, if it’s only wilted, it’s edible if not at its best, and can be saved.
Like lettuce and cucumbers, celery contains a lot of moisture (my sister-in-law refers to celery as “hair packed in water,” a pretty apt description) and quickly loses its crispness if not stored properly. For a head of celery of which I’ve only used a couple of stalks, I wrap a very lightly dampened paper towel around the base of the remaining stalks before putting it all back in the plastic bag. I twist the top and close it with a twist-tie or bread bag tag. This keeps the end from drying out while also absorbing any excess moisture which would promote rot.
You can also just buy sliced celery by the pound at the salad bar so there are no leftovers. It’s more time-consuming to chop, if the recipe calls for that; and it costs a bit more per pound. But if there’s no waste, then you’ve actually saved money.
I remember an experiment from my childhood that I bet is still floating around. You place a stalk of celery in a jar of water with a little food coloring added, either red or blue. Then you can watch the color slowly inch its way up the stalk, a clear demonstration of the process of osmosis. If I recall correctly, by the time it had been there overnight, the entire stalk would have taken up the color.
You can do the same thing with a whole or partial head of celery. Find a tall narrow bowl which will hold it upright without toppling over, add some room temperature water, and then the celery. Go about your business, and a few hours later, voilà – resuscitated celery! It may not be crisp enough to put out on a veggie platter, but should be fine for cooking. And remember, even wilted celery will add flavor to the stockpot, where everything get cooked until the last bit of goodness is wrung from it.