Hot For Horseradish

This is a love story about all things hot.  Not hot like the sun, but hot to your taste.  We love foods that have a little heat to them here on Glen Road.  In fact, we are always taking recipes and putting a little heat into them.  We add cherry peppers into broccoli rabe, we put cayenne pepper into almost anything and there is nothing better than cold clams with tabasco sauce, to name a few.  However, our favorite is freshly roasted beef or a polish sausage with a little side of homemade horseradish.  Funny thing is, we don’t have any horseradish that grows in our garden.  When we want horseradish, we need to buy the root at our local organic produce market.  Well, this is about to change because we have planted a bed of five horseradish roots.  The five little brown stalks appear to be so innocent, but in a year they will produce thick roots that are filled with fire.  These roots were planted down from our newly planted rhubarb patch, right behind the espalier apple trees.  Let’s get the heat started with a little horseradish history from the internet:

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) is in the brassica family, which includes turnips, kale, mustard greens, broccoli rabe, daikon radish and many other plants with varying degrees of pungency and a similar taste.  Native to the temperate regions of Europe and Asia, it is an ancient herb.  The Romans carried horseradish to Europe as a medicinal herb and as a flavoring.  It was cultivated in Egypt before the exodus of the Hebrew slaves around 1500 B.C., and is often the symbolic bitter herb at the Passover Seder.

By the 16th century, the pungent root was spreading throughout England, where it was described for  its many uses, including as an aphrodisiac, a treatment for tuberculosis, a mustard plaster and a dewormer.  The common name probably evolved from the German “meerrettich,” which means sea-radish, which was misunderstood by the English, who associated “meer” with “mahre,” an old horse.

Undisturbed, the root doesn’t have a strong smell or flavor. But crushing or grinding it produces isothiocyanates, a kind of mustard oil, which is what gives horseradish its flavor and heat.  Adding vinegar stops the reaction because it’s an acid.  It also stabilizes the isothiocyanates, so you can still get that flavor a week later.  Tradition calls for grinding the root outside, because the chemical reaction triggered creates a gas that not only makes you weep, but can irritate lungs and nostrils.  This is actually a defense mechanism for the plant if it’s wounded.

We planted our horseradish in a long furrow about six inches deep.  Each root has a top and a bottom identified by the slicing made by the grower.  The top is identified by a straight slice and the bottom is identified by a diagonal slice.  When we placed them in the furrow, we put them in at an angle, with the straight sliced top pointing upwards.  Once in place, we covered the top of the roots with about four inches of soil, pressed the soil into place and watered.  While we won’t harvest any horseradish this year, the roots will produce beautiful green leaves that will make a nice complement to the equally as beautiful rhubarb leaves that we previously planted along the back side of the espaliers.  Next year, we will harvest and grind a few of the roots, add some white vinegar and salt and begin to enjoy some heat.  As my Grandmother used to say, we can only harvest the roots in months that contain an ‘R’ in them.  Months that don’t contain an ‘R’ are too hot and the root will not produce optimal flavor.

So here’s to horseradish, named “Herb of the Year 2011” by the International Herb Association.  We will look forward to your pretty leaves this year and then the addition of your hotness to our meats, mashed potatoes and seafood in 2012.  We can’t wait.  What hot foods do you and your family like to cook or eat?

4 thoughts on “Hot For Horseradish

    • Hi Rufus’. I’ll let you know early in 2012. Doesn’t that seem like such a long time from now? I’ll have to keep on grinding store-bought horseradish root. It’s great to eat and if you get a big whiff up your nose, it will clear your sinuses out for a month. Come back and visit soon.

  1. We grew it but didn’t know anything about it except it was hot. Thanks for the information.

    Grandma would grind it out on the picnic table. We also tried gringing it in a food processor but we burnt the motor out of the processor. Tough root.

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