read the history of Vienna Beef:
or this – which explains that it’s not just a "Chicago" thing:
One question continues to stump me: What is the deal with Rhode Islanders and celery salt? Any place I’ve lived, celery salt is one of those seasonings that our mothers bought once in the ’60s and used the same tin for the next generation maybe a quarter teaspoon in the Thanksgiving stuffing, but that’s it.
Rhode Islanders revere this seasoning. An informal poll of my Rhode Island co-workers reveal that they all give celery salt a place of honor at the front of the spice cupboard so that it’s always within easy reach. Potato salad, hamburgers, and of course hot dogs they wouldn’t dream of it without celery salt. Here at CCRI, the cafeteria keeps a large container of celery salt alongside the salt, pepper, and cheese.
Please, you are the go-to guys for all things Rhode Island. Can you explain the origins of this love affair?
I asked around a little, and while I don’t have a satisfying answer to your question, I did get back some interesting reminiscences.
But first, the closest I have to a real answer comes from Barbara Sherman Stetson, the author of It’s Rhode Island: A Cook Book. She doesn’t know much more than the rest of us when it comes to celery salt, but she seems to think it has a connection with German immigrants, white sauces, and Fanny Farmer (author of The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook (1896), which apparently includes many recipes calling for celery salt); and that it’s a regional New England thing, not just a Rhode Island thing.
I also posed your question to the denizens of the Usenet newsgroup alt.rhode_island, an online discussion forum. Here are some of their responses:
Anne: Interesting. I was never a big celery-salt fan, but my mom (born and raised in southeastern Massachusetts, and the person who first got me hooked on coffee ice cream) used it regularly on just about everything. I remember, too, the wonderful original Joe’s sandwich shop on Benefit Street going back to the early 1970s where the RISD students making your roast beef/melted swiss on rye would always ask "Salt-pepper-celery salt?" as if invoking the holy trinity of seasonings.
Laury: My grandmother came from Olneyville just before World War II and used celery salt on everything, but especially Saugies. Saugies were served on Nissen buns with mustard, sweet pepper relish, and celery salt. My other grandmother came from Woonsocket, French-Canadian (actually born in Quebec), and did not use celery salt, but her husband, from Olneyville, did. I always had the vague impression it was an Olneyville thing, but it would seem from other’s recollections that it was more broad than that.
Patsina55: As kids, we thought celery salt was an exotic but safe way to spice up our food. (And yes my mother was Irish.) Celery salt wasn’t potentially life-threatening in large quantities like Frank’s Hot Sauce and didn’t have a yucky aftertaste like Accent. Any spices with actual flavors, such as curry powder, were way too scary for us and would have sat on my mother’s counter alongside the mysterious "cream of tartar" till they petrified. What is cream of tartar, anyway? It’s not creamy and it doesn’t contain raw beef.
Bob: I can’t give you the origin of Rhode Island’s fascination with celery salt… but I can affirm that when growing up in Rhode Island, celery salt seemed to be married to certain foods we ate: Saugies of course; potato salad; lobster salad; soup stock; et al. While it’s true that where we now live (Philadelphia area) celery salt does not seem to have the same popularity, it is available, and we have a reputation for serving the best damned hot dogs in town (actually we serve knockwurst because it’s almost impossible to get hot dogs which are not skinless here). Also, I’ve become fond of using &,3,181707.001,1,19108,184.108.40.206
181707,181707,0,2006-02-09 16:26:03,Celery Salt”