Thursday, February 16, 2006

Preparing Horseradish

The young man plunged his shovel into the garden loam, unearthing a long thick brown root. After several more shovels and some grunting, he wrenched it out of the earth. It seemed a fitting metaphor for the community garden in which we stood. The oldest community garden in San Jose too was to be uprooted, paved over. With the September sun dipping behind the sunflowers, he wrestled more roots from the warm soil.

Gradually curiosity displaced the poetry of the moment, and I asked him what he had been growing and was he pulling it out of the ground because the garden was going to be destroyed. He laughed. No, at summers end, it is time to harvest the horseradish.

Til then, horseradish had only been something from a little glass jar. I investigated. A perennial plant from the mustard and cabbage family. Mostly grown and harvested by hand. Known and used in antiquity. Strong bite and aroma. Yes, these facts sent Cupid's arrow into my heart.

Plus the oracle of Delphi herself proclaimed, "The radish is worth its weight in lead, the beet its weight in silver, the horseradish its weight in gold."

You can make your own prepared horseradish - all it takes is grating and adding vinegar to preserve it. You won't experience the bite or aroma of horseradish until it's grated. Crushing the root cells releases the volatile oils and the smaller you grate it, the sharper your final result. Use the smallest shredder on the food processor, then follow that with a few pulses with the metal blade and you will have a finely grated and dangerously aromatic condiment. While I initially dismissed the cautions about inhaling freshly grated root, I quickly learned respect for plant also known as "stingnose" in some part of the U.S. I did have to open the window. Add a 1/2 tsp salt for each cup of horseradish while processing.

If you don't use it immediately you must add vinegar to keep it from turning brown and bitter. I added 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar to about a cup of grated horseradish. If you want a milder preparation, add the vinegar within the first minute of grating. If you want sinus cleaning, then add the vinegar at the 3 minute timeout. That's all there is to it.

You might be wondering what I am going to do with this lovely condiment. All will be revealed in time! There, have I left you in suspense now?

The community garden is gone now - apricot trees and sunflowers and juicy Russian tomatoes and all. But the California immigrant harvesting his roots, roots that extended beyond the San Jose plot, all the way to Russia was an inspiration.


Anonymous w. marlatt said...

I love your story about the Russian digging up his final root from his garden. I believe a vanishing garden is not forever gone. You are keeping a bit of it alive by trying out his horseradish root.
He is likely scouting out a dirt patch somewhere, and my garden has been flourishing in my head for three years. Your blog aromas are wonderful! I want more...

4:51 PM  
Blogger Heidi said...

hello Ms. marlatt -
sometimes the gardens we build in our heads provide more produce than the physical ones, n'est-ce-pas?

4:07 PM  

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