Thursday, September 19, 2013


The pungent, hot flavor of horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), a perennial plant related to mustard, wasabi, cabbage and other brassicas is stupendous by itself or added to sauces and served alongside seafood, beef, and veggie dishes. We plucked out a root the other day, and ground it up to make a jarful of horseradish.

This perennial grows easily in moist, rich garden soil and should be established in a permanent spot where it is not likely to spread. Bits of roots and the surrounding branches of roots that are left behind as a plant is pulled up tend to result in new plants. For this reason, be careful not to add root pieces to the compost pile or till it into the soil. You could end up with horseradish all over your garden. It is sometimes grown in a keg or barrel to keep the patch from spreading. Here, it has been growing for fourteen years, and harvested only a few times. It’s in an isolated spot bounded by rocks. The half dozen plants have shown no signs of trying to escape their little plot.

The horseradish root is a long tap root with finer lateral roots. Investigation of a ten year old plant growing in Nebraska showed that the tap root had penetrated fifteen feet into the ground. Click here to read this study. The plants, grown undisturbed for ten years had two-inch diameter roots. The roots of our plants are a more typical half-inch in diameter.
Freshly pulled horseradish
Horseradish can be grown as an annual, and this is how it is handled commercially. Pieces of root are planted early in the season, and the roots are harvested after a hard frost kills the leaves. Grown as a perennial, the plant needs a cold winter to force it into dormancy. It is adapted to growing zones 2 to 9, an ideal plant for a Maine garden where things can vary from zone 3 to about 6, depending on location and the severity of a winter.

Start horseradish either from plants or root cuttings. You might be lucky to find some in a ditch, as it is a weed in some areas. One plant is usually enough to provide for a family, but if you have a special hankering for its pungency, you may want to grow a few plants.

There are several ways to prepare the root. Marsha’s dad had an annual, autumn tradition of grinding horseradish roots using a hand cranked meat grinder. This was done outdoors, and may be the old timey method.  It can be grated or shredded using a hand grater. Our method is modern and quick.

First, thoroughly scrub the root, then scrape or peel off the outer brownish surface with a sharp paring knife to reveal the whitish interior. Cut the root into one inch chunks and put them into a food processor. Add a quarter cup of water. Up to this point the root won’t smell like much, but once you start the machine, watch out. Push the pulse button and stand back- the fumes are potent and can make your nose run and your eyes water. You might prefer to do this outdoors.

As the root grates, volatile oils are released that also release the heat. Adding vinegar stops the enzyme action. Add a quarter cup of vinegar right away to make a mild batch. Wait three minutes to add the vinegar to make a hotter, more pungent batch.

Horseradish is a source of fiber, vitamin C, and folate. It contains 7 calories per teaspoon, and has no cholesterol. Refrigerate after processing as unrefrigerated it will lose its flavor. It will keep in the refrigerator three months or more. If using horseradish in hot dishes, add it just before serving since cooking it destroys the flavor.

Here are some uses for this amazing root. Add horseradish to :
  • bar-b-cue sauce and shrimp cocktail sauce
  • sour cream to use as an accompaniment to veggie dishes
  • mayonnaise along with some chopped onion to make tarter sauce to go with seafood
  • softened butter to go with beef dishes
  • mashed potatoes (adjust amount as per your taste preference)

Horseradish is also a critical ingredient in Virgin and Bloody Marys.

And here are a couple of insightful quotes:

The Delphic oracle told Apollo that the radish is worth it's weight in lead, the beet worth it's weight in silver, and the horseradish worth it's weight in gold.

Dagwood Bumstead once said to Blondie, "My kingdom for some horseradish."

Well said, Dagwood. -G.H.

No comments:

Post a Comment