Tale of the Horseradish

Once upon a time in a place faraway, a plant was grown and cultivated for its medicinal and culinary benefits to mankind. It was the horseradish plant, but it was known by many other names. The Germans called it meerrettich. The English got some from the Germans, but they couldn’t handle the guttural germanic utterings. Because of this mispronunciation, it became known first as mareradish and finally as horseradish. It has also been called redcole in England and comically stingnose in some parts of the southern U.S.

Mother Goose is deeply indebted to the kind folks at Horseradish: A Root with Roots for so much information about this humble plant. The best news of all is that Horseradish has been named the 2011 Herb of the Year by the International Herb Association! Folks, that’s a good reason to stand up and cheer right now….. go ahead, I’ll wait…

If you read yesterday’s post about making Headcheese, you already know that Dana was also harvesting and processing Horseradish at the same time as he was boiling the piggy head. In many areas of the world, horseradish grows wild. Other areas are especially adapted to growing the plant, and are veritable “hot spots” for domestic cultivation. The Illinois side of the Mississippi River has been known for the herb as well as Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I guess they are just good rooty places! My brother’s root has been on his farm for years and years and years.

The first step is to dig up some roots. Dogs are perfect helpers for this. Harley thought it was all fun — he would grab the root and run away with it. Probably taking it to season the piggy hock wherever he buried that tender morsel.

When you’ve dug up your root and praised your pup, simply peel it and set it artfully in a pretty bowl.

For the next step, Mother Goose advises that you put on your safety goggles and keep a tissue or hanky handy. The roots are packed with powerful, volatile oils known as isothiocyanate which are released when processed or ground. This is what makes the root so very hot. The only substance which can tame the oil is vinegar, and the sooner it is applied the better. Hence, all horseradish recipes contain vinegar otherwise it is likely that the top of horseradish consumer’s head would blow off.

If you are using an old-fashioned meat grinder, that’s great! If you have an automatic and electric-powered food processor, that’s good too, but you obviously will not get the added benefit of exercising your arm muscles. Mother Goose has a meat grinder. Dana has the modern gadget because his arms are strong enough already.

If you are grinding by hand, consider running it through the grinder a couple of times to make it as fine as possible. If you are using a food processor, just turn it on and go outside and do some other farm work for awhile.

Here’s some more hot and spicy facts about Horseradish: In the United States, an estimated 24 million pounds of horseradish roots are ground and processed annually to produce approximately 6 million gallons of prepared horseradish. (Dana’s recipe called for one cup of chopped root, but small scale horseradish is fine with us.) It seems the horseradish capital of the world is in Collinsville, Illinois where they celebrate the humble root each May. Events include The Root Toss, the horseradish eating contest and of course, a recipe contest featuring Horseradish.

Again, I am grateful to the official website of horseradish for so much helpful information, and strongly encourage you to visit them. They have thousands of good ideas for using horseradish. It’s not just for flavoring your favorite beef roast or steak anymore!

AND, thanks to my dear sister Bunn for the pictures — you really helped us all to understand the process!

Mother Goose says, “Bee blessed today.”

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