Trenched Celery, Blanched Celery and Pascal Celery: The Forgotten Story of Colorado's Once Mighty Celery Industry

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Excellent article Brian! I have got to try this next year.

Just FYI my family farmed just west of Spano's we raised celery long before they did. We were one of the largest growers of Pascal celery. Also made our own seed and also sold seed to Western Seed.

I still have the trench cutter that we used when we raised celery in my yard. It usually took two tractors to pull the trench cutter as it cut out a swatch about ten inches wide and twelve inches deep. The cutter overall length is about six feet long. It was easier to pull it through sandy soil than heavy clay soil.

Brian--Great piece of research. I sent it to my aunt, June Spero, who wrote back a lengthy email, which I am going to share unedited with her permission---tantissimi auguri di un felicissimo anno nuovo!

"My grandmother Clara (Spano) Elliott aka Alioto, and my uncles Sonny and nanny were some of the "Spano" clan who started the "bleached" not blanched celery. They would trench the celery in the fall, and then when the celery was ready and the holiday prices were up, they would dig up the trenched celery, unwrap the newspaper. trim the root and prepare for sale to the brokers at Denargo market, or sell to the Green Brothers, who shipped throughout the US. Colorado "Pascal celery" was world , or at least US known. They covered the trench with straw, then manure, and then dirt, not straight manure on the trench. Often it was freezing when they trimmed the celery for market. They would have a half barrel in the field with a fire going, so they could warm their hands while working.

When the orders were done for the day, my uncles and their first cousins (who lived on adjacent farms) -- my grandmother's nephews, would all gather at my grandmother's house. They would enjoy her cimino (sesame) biscotti, coffee, and the celery would be washed and dipped in a bowl of olive oil and salt and pepper to eat with the cookies and coffee. This scene was repeated often from a week or two before Thanksgiving until after Christmas. I lived with my parents and grandparents so I was a witness to this rite. The one thing I remember is that my mother and grandmother were also out there in the cold trimming the celery along with the men!

My uncle won prizes at the state fair with bunches (12 stalks) that stood well over 3 feet high and weighed well over 150 lbs. It took 2 men to lift it onto a crate. We had film of it, but alas a fire at my brother's house burnt the film! You might be able to find the article in the Denver Post. I think early 50's, maybe '53. It was labor intensive, but for years people knew of pascal celery from CO and were willing to pay the price. What really also contributed to the death of the industry was contaminated seed from CA. My uncle would start the plants in the greenhouse and the transplant into the fields. He got bad seed that created root rot in the plants. The disease got into the soil and it was way too expensive to eradicate the disease, so the celery growing came to a halt!
Pascal celery was a large part of my formative years!

In reply to by Jerry Carbone (not verified)

The articles are a great testament of the hard work our families and relatives put into providing this wonderful celery.
My grandfather Sam Spano, was one of the brothers of Clara (Spano) Elliott. Needless to say, most of the farming brothers, sons and cousins of Clara and Sam took great pride in perpetuating the tradition of this cherished celery process, laborious as it is. They all set the cornerstone of building this strain of seed which would be rare to find today.
Most people could only imagine how wonderful it was. I too, like June Spero, remember as a child the magnificent smell of the celery and dipping into a dish of olive oil, salt and pepper. We continue to eat the celery hearts today that same way, even though it's not quite as special.
Thanks to Anthony Spano, and probably a rare few other small farmers, attempt to grow and nurture Pascal celery of recent years.

Thank you for this information
Thank you to those who have shared their memories of this time.
Our family worked for the Denver Post during those years.
Our family stories included supplying the newspapers to the farmers who then used them to line the trenches for Pascal celery.

And in the Wheat Ridge area, there was H.B. Martensen, one of the early pioneers of that town. H.B. and his wife Lena immigrated from Denmark. After H.B. worked in other cities across the Eastern part of America, he settled around Lakewood and started a dairy business. Then he moved to Wheat Ridge where, in 1905, he established a successful celery "empire" which was taken over by his two sons Louis W., and Edward Martensen. The two sons developed celery noted for its tenderness and flavor, and which was sent to many parts of America. I believe that L.W. Martensen School in Wheat Ridge was named after one of the sons, Louis W. My thanks to the Wheat Ridge Historical Committee.

Wheat Ridge has a pretty amazing agricultural history. Thanks for sharing!

I've only been in Colorado since 1978, am a horticultural fiend and am a serious student of local history. It is SO cool to read of all of these recollections - all resulting from the wonderful newsletters from the DWH&G at the Denver Public Library. Hooray to all and congratulations for a mission well executed-

Wonderful information! My hubby, a true Denver native, knew all about the Italian community and celery growing. Fun to be reminded of it all.

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