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Harvesting and processing horseradish

I suppose this is another of those "why bother" crops. Why bother growing horseradish if you seldom eat it? Why bother processing something that you can buy for about a buck at the grocery? Why go to the trouble, why use up the garden space, why, why, why?

I probably wouldn't have ever even looked for horseradish root to grow if my late father hadn't suggested it. He thought it would be a wonderful addition to my garden and had great memories of growing it as a boy on their little truck farm. He told me how to turn it from a big old root into the smooth, creamy condiment you use on pork roast and beef and in cocktail sauce and (my favorite) deviled eggs.

After he died, I made it a mission to find some. I asked the Amish, but they don't grow it. I couldn't find roots from any of my usual seed sources. One day I was wandering around our little local department store – kind of a mini Wal-Mart – and there it was. A cardboard box with three little roots of horseradish, about as big as baby carrots. The planting instructions were printed on the box. For less than two dollars, I had what I needed.

I stuck them in a bricked-in planter box in front of my house, a good-sized space where I planted herbs last spring. After a couple of months, the first little leaves sprouted. It was alive. I hadn't killed it.

I didn't do anything special to it, other than make sure it got watered during dry spells. By the end of the summer it was quite lush and had taken over a good part of the lower end of the herbs, next to the parsley.

I began doing some online research about what, exactly, to do with it, and when. Daddy wasn't around for advice, but I found Tom Clothier's Garden Walk and Talk website through a Google search, which told me everything I needed to know. The website contains a wealth of gardening information.

Tom said the best time to harvest is in November, after the second killing frost. I don't know how many killing frosts we've had this fall so far, but it's been more than two, so I decided yesterday was going to be the day.

I first cut off all the leaves so I could see what I was doing, and then used a shovel to dig around the root. I pulled it out of the ground, leaving a couple root pieces in the dirt for next year. I also replanted the crown after I'd cut the large root off.

I scrubbed it in the sink with a brush and then trimmed the outer layer with a potato peeler. I cut it into small chunks and cut away any brown spots, of which there were few.

Horseradish is pungent, and processing horseradish is best done outdoors or in front of an open window. I have a small table on my porch, and an outside electrical outlet, so I set up shop outside.

It takes more time to prepare the root and assemble all the various necessary items – a 50/50 vinegar/water mixture, a small spatula, jars for storage, a strainer (which I ended up not needing) and the food processer – than it does to grind it up. My root yielded enough pieces to process two batches in my three-cup machine.

I put the pieces into the food processor and flipped the switch. Horseradish root breaks down easily and in only a couple minutes it was chopped enough that I could begin adding a little of the vinegar-water mixture, which breaks down the root even more. Coarsely chopped horseradish is mildly flavored; if you want it hot, you need to keep grinding.

Which I did, until it looked creamy and spreadable. My root yielded two eight-ounce glass jars, but I didn't fill them all the way. One is now in the refrigerator and the other is in the freezer. I might not even have to go through this next year. Horseradish can grow from one winter to the next and is frequently harvested every other year.

So. A couple years' supply of horseradish, ready to eat, in less than half an hour. The satisfaction of doing this myself far outweighs the space it took in the garden and the minimal mess it made. It's hard for me to explain why in a way that makes sense. After all, how many people do you know who are sentimental about horseradish? Heh.

Horseradish isn't something that's on my menu every day. But I think I'll get a pork roast out of the freezer for tomorrow.


Anne M. said…
I never thought about where horseradish came from. Who knew it was a root? Although the "radish" part should have been a clue! Great story about the connection to your dad - and wonderful pictures!
ws said…
for variety you could add some beet juice and make it purple horseradish.

And, just think you can host passover seders all year round with your extra horseradish...

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