On Horseradish

DSC06079My husband has a rather exaggerated opinion of my capacities.

I was out in the chilly, damp day digging out some horseradish roots, and he called over with concern, “don’t kill them all!”

Heh. Anyone who grows this hardy perennial knows that’s about as likely as harvesting every last sunchoke tuber and having a barren patch come spring. Ain’t happenin’.

I did once have difficulty getting a horseradish patch established. Admitting this to fellow gardeners caused looks of suspicion, head-shaking, and the occasional smirk. What kind of vegetable farmer can’t grow horseradish?

I was saved by my friend Amy, who quietly slipped me some roots and said something to the effect of: You’re being too nice to it. Take these roots and whack them up against a fence post. Swear at ’em a few times, then stomp them into the dirt where you want your patch. Kick some dirt over the top, swear one more time, and walk away.

Voila! A healthy rampant horseradish patch that proceeded to invade everything within twenty feet.

The patch harvested today is one I inherited from the previous owner of this farm. It’s fairly small on account of being hemmed in by a double layer of landscape fabric, but it’s plenty prolific. I forked up three good-sized chunks of root to trim and store in the crisper for winter sauce-making.

DSC06080I am an absolute purist when it comes to “prepared horseradish.” The only acceptable ingredients are grated horseradish, vinegar, and a pinch of salt. It’s not that I object to adding this basic preparation to other sauces, dressings, dips, etc., but I am absolutely opposed to those commercial horseradish preparations that contain soybean oil, weird un-pronounce-able ingredients, and artificial flavor.

That last one irks me the most–why in the heck would you add artificial flavor to horseradish? Horseradish tastes like horseradish, and even if it’s not fresh and pungent, it still tastes like horseradish; it just doesn’t have the side benefit of clearing your sinuses. I’ve seen horseradish that’s gotten so old it’s gone kind of brownish colored, and it STILL smelled like nothing other than horseradish.

Speaking of the heat factor, the fresher and finer-grated the root is, the hotter it is. My dear friend Matt from over at Cookrookery gave me a microplane (yay! a microplane!) for my 40th birthday, and so that’s what I used to grate this fresh-out-of-the-earth root.

DSC06081Tears of joy, I assure you. And pain.

Normal, reasonable people (I’ve heard) often grate their horseradish outside. Well, it’s cold out there, so I just turned on the range hood exhaust fan.

On the tongue, the flavor is outstanding. I used apple cider vinegar plus a little Real salt–tiny pinch. And there was just enough time to savor that clean horseradish flavor before the searing heat ran up through my sinuses and momentarily blinded and incapacitated me.


Home Remedies: Horseradish

I’m not a doctor, but I play one at home.  The following is not medical advice, but my own experience.  Consult your doctor with serious medical issues.

That said, I employ a variety of home remedies that have been pretty effective for me and my family for various non-serious maladies.  In a lot of cases, I believe doing this has led to less frequent doctor visits–certainly for me.  But then, I’m willing to use myself as a guinea pig.

One of the remedies I grew up with was using horseradish to clear out minor sinus problems accompanying colds and flu and hay fever. You’d take a spoonful (as much as you could stand) and stomp your foot as the vapors burned through the mucus in your head. (The stomping wasn’t necessary for the “cure,” I don’t think.)

My mom bought pre-prepared horseradish, which at that time seemed pretty effective and HOT (that’s the medicinal part–the same chemical component as in mustard oil).  But I haven’t found a commercially-prepared horseradish that is what I would call medicinal-grade in a long time.

A lot of the commercial brands have artifical additives and soybean oil–something I can’t understand at all (horseradish should taste like horseradish–nothing else) and wouldn’t use as a home rememdy if I was sick.  Of course I wouldn’t use the creamy horseradish sauces, either.

Good horseradish is made with nothing but fine-grated horseradish root, vinegar, and usually a little salt, and it’s really easy to make at home if you can get your hands on a section of horseradish root.  Of course, the best way to get your hands on some horseradish root is to grow it yourself, and it’s very easy to grow.

In fact, my only failed attempt at growing horseradish was due to (as a friend explained to me) not being mean enough to the root as I planted it.  I was told it might help to beat the thing against a fence post and swear at it a few times, then stick it in the ground.

I didn’t do that, but I did dig the patch deep and added some manure and sand so the roots would have fertile and loose soil to grow deep and straight.  And boy, did they.  I’m glad I planted it where I can occasionally dig out the patch and mow the leaves–it can be very invasive, and it’s hard to get all of it out.

It’s so vigorous and invasive, I won’t put any part of the root in my compost pile–any little nubbin I have left from preparing grated horseradish goes in the trash.  But, as I said, it’s easy to grow, and it’s handy to have on hand for medicinal and condiment use.

If you live in the northern tier, ask around and see if someone will give you a section of root.  You can also order the roots from many seed companies, but if your neighbors who already have it find out, they’ll laugh at you for paying money for it.

In order to preserve the heat of fresh horseradish, I’ve found the best preparation method is to use a fine grater, only do a little at a time (this also helps to preserve the preparer’s sanity–the fumes can be intense!), and grate the root directly into a bowl that has a little puddle of cider vinegar in it.

If you grate fresh horseradish coarsely (like in a food processor), it won’t be as hot.  It will taste good (freshly-prepped horseradish is sweet as well as hot), but it won’t have the “oomph” you’re going for if you need a good sinus-clearing.

I stop every few moments to scrape the gratings off the back of the grater and to mix the shavings into the vinegar.  Once I have a little mound, I scrape all of the gratings into a little jar with a tight-fitting lid and add a smidgeon of salt.

The volatile compounds that make horseradish hot dissipate fast–get a lid on it as soon as possible.  Once you have your grated, prepared root, you can take a spoonful every few hours to help clear out your sinuses.  A word of warning–try a SMALL spoonful at first–don’t hurt yourself!

Bubbies' of San Francisco

Bubbies’ Bread and Butter Pickles

I’d like to post occasionally on food and drink that I think is good stuff. It may be anywhere from down-home to gourmet, and it may be local, regional, or just plain good no matter where it comes from. Obviously, I lean toward local food, but for right now, most local food I’m eating came from my own gardens or from the one steer or one pig (or walleye or venison) that friends shared, so I don’t want to be entirely shameless and/or smugly self-sufficient about my plugs.

I want to tip my hat to Bubbies’ of San Francisco. Everything I’ve gotten under their brand name is great-tasting, uses all-natural ingredients and is free of preservatives–today I picked up their bread-and-butter pickles as I had a complete cuke crop failure last year and have no pickles of my own making. I had to restrain myself from eating half the (big) jar after the first bite.

I’ve also had their horseradish–not super hot, but good flavor–and their saurkraut, which is phenomenal. In case you’re not hip to the fermentation process, it basically includes nothing but vegetable and salt, a fairly cool place, and maybe a little water in the canning process. Saurkraut should never contain vinegar–if it does, they’re cheating by pickling, not fermenting. Bubbies’ is not cheating.

I did a batch of saur ruben (fermented white turnip) a couple years ago when I massively over-planted turnips. My CSA members breathed a sigh of relief after six weeks of turnip deliveries, and I had a great product that I was a little worried about eating at first. Not that I didn’t do it right, but jamming a bunch of raw produce and salt down in a big jar or crock, leaving it in the basement, and skimming off scum for a couple weeks seems antithetical to the clean canning process for the fermented foods novice.

I have also noticed that a lot of the horseradish sold in local supermarkets has artificial flavor added. I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would think something so basic would need artificial anything needed. I mean, even if you look at it purely in terms of financial cheapness (a perspective I generally abhor when it comes to food), all you need is horseradish, vinegar, and salt. You don’t need soybean oil, fake colors, fake flavors–nothing that would cost even a penny more. Horseradish is a rampant grower, and salt and vinegar are about the cheapest condiments on the market. How can it get any easier? But so many companies feel they have to add something to make it–what? Nothing you add to horseradish besides the two things listed above could make it better than it is–unless you are making cocktail sauce, and that is a different story.

Anyway, I don’t need to buy horseradish in the store anymore, as I have plenty, and I grate it fresh from the roots in the crisper as needed. But if you need to buy it, I suggest reading the label for weird, unnecessary additives. Bubbies’ and (last I knew) Helluva Good both make a good, clean product.