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The horseradish perspective

By KRISTIN BARRON
Posted 11/20/19

Fall is a time to gather perspective after the relaxed days of summer. We recommit ourselves to work. Kids go back to school. We put snow tires on the car in anticipation of the ice and snow soon to …

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The horseradish perspective

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Fall is a time to gather perspective after the relaxed days of summer. We recommit ourselves to work. Kids go back to school. We put snow tires on the car in anticipation of the ice and snow soon to come. 

We turn our attention to our busted gardens, turning over the soil to ready for the next planting. We dig up the last potatoes and pick the last standing marigolds. We plant crocus bulbs in hope of spring. 

This fall, after many years of inattention, it finally occurred to me to dig up my sprawling horseradish plant. Certainly, if there is any plant capable of giving you a viewpoint (as well as a runny nose), it is horseradish. Everyone has an opinion on horseradish. Some love it. Others loathe its peppery, sharp flavor. 

Often associated with the Passover Seder and Easter dinners of spring, horseradish can also be harvested in fall after the first frosts have killed the foliage. 

My thriving horseradish plant has been gathering strength and spice for about 20 years now. It was grown from the off-shoot that our friend Hugh “Mac” McCammon  gave to me when we first moved to this house. For 20 years now, it has been secretly taking over my garden, as was revealed when we dug up the plant this past weekend. The tap root of my plant was huge with a network of off-shoots creeping craftily toward Callicoon and no doubt contemplating complete world domination.

I peeled the root then shreded it with a box grater and combined it with vinegar, salt and a small bit of milk. My mother always advised adding a splash of milk to keep the sauce from discoloration. Traditional recipes call for about a half cup of vinegar and a teaspoon of salt for each cup of grated horseradish. Pickled beets are often added to horseradish to make a particularly appealing condiment customary at Polish Easter celebrations. Horseradish is a good sidekick to holiday meats such as roast beef and ham. And, of course, horseradish is a main ingredient in the cocktail sauce that is served with shrimp and seafood.

Often compared to Japanese wasabi, horseradish is sometimes dyed green and used as a cheaper substitute for wasabi. The first commercial sale of horseradish was in 1869 when John Henry Heinz (of ketchup fame) bottled his mother’s sauce.

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) is said to have originated in Russia and Ukraine and has been cultivated since ancient times. The Greeks and Romans used it for colds, back pain and as an aphrodisiac. 

In modern times, researchers have developed a fire alarm for deaf people using the pungent smell of horseradish. The vegetable is also being studied for possible use as treatment to purify wastewater.

An old Yiddish saying goes something like this: “To a worm in horseradish, the whole world is horseradish.” It is mainly a proverb about world view or perspective. It is sometimes hard to see past our own realities to appreciate other’s experiences. With this thought I leave you: go out to explore the world in this new season with passion. And with the spicy gusto of horseradish. 

Horseradish, winter

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