Horseradish, In Any Form, On My Plate, I Think I’ll Pass

Horseradish Plant

I was introduced to horseradish at a far too early age.

Family dinners frequently, as my brother and I grew older, took us across the state border to a beloved restaurant. Somewhere along the way I discovered sweetbreads so who was I to complain about any food?

Easy. My mother preferred prime rib, would slather the juicy meat with a thick coating of the white stuff, take perhaps 4 or 5 bites and offer the rest to us. Good God! No, thank you.

I’ve obviously grown since then with tastes that have also developed (though my brother remains a very picky eater) but horseradish in any form — on any thing (almost) — remains a no-no.

I imagine I knew that the lumpy white stuff in the jar came from a root but I certainly had no idea where that root was cultivated.

Newcomb describes Horseradish (Armoracia lapathifolia) as being a “coarse plant of moist, open places with large, long-stalked basal leaves, 6-12” long, 2-3′ high. Its pretty white flowers, 1/4″ wide, have four regular parts. A member of the mustard family, it’s an escapee to the sides of roads and streams. How one escaped to a corner of my garden in this very dry year is anybody’s guess.

“Edible Wild Plants” mentions the “tiny, egg-shaped seedpods” and tells us the roots are large, white and peppery. Besides being the source of commercial horseradish, one can grate the root and mix with a bit of vinegar (though it doesn’t tell me what to do then). The tender young leaves of spring can be added to your salad but, I’m warned, those leaves, called “horseradish greens,” are “not commonly eaten” and taste very much like the root. (Some salad.)

Would I have acted differently had I known all this before ripping out the plant and tossing it away?

Perhaps. Grinding a root in the blender doesn’t sound all that impossible. Then again, I still had the decades old leaky one and it struggled with ice cubes. My new one would manage in a flash. But then again, any jarred horseradish around here turns brown long before the jar is emptied. (Eventually any stored horseradish will darken which I should take as a sign it’s losing its flavor — oh — and needs to be tossed.) Well, OK.

Even if not particularly popular with me, horseradish sauce is particularly popular throughout much of Europe. The Russian add garlic and tomatoes for color (wow!). The United Kingdom makes it a must (grated horseradish root with vinegar) with roast beef but it also shows up in salads and sandwiches. The Germans may use lemon juice or citric acid in lieu of the vinegar, a variation they term “Tafelmeerrellich.”

The British also have a very popular spread, Tewkesbury Mustard (blending the mustard with the grated root) which is even mentioned in Shakespeare: Henry IV Part II has Falstaff saying “his wit’s as thick as Tewkesbury Mustard.” A similar product is found throughout Austria, Germany and France.

Every region, it seems, varies the spelling but finds some use for the ground root. Poles even make a soup out of it while “khreyn,” “chren,” khrin,” “khren,” and so on is traditionally found on the table as part of Christian Easter or the Jewish Passover in Central and Eastern Europe.

Just so you know: in a typical serving of one tablespoon, horseradish has no nutritional value and about eight calories.

Some have you may have discovered the Japanese wasabi. The wasabi plant has gotten very scarce so it’s generally prepared now with horseradish.

And, yes, I do have a bottle in my refrigerator, making a marvelous cocktail sauce for the occasional shrimp.

Talk abut treats!

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Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” following in 2014. Both novels are now available at Lakewood’s Off the Beaten Path bookstore. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.

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