Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Old Becomes New... To Me

The other day while heading into town something in the light reminded me that it is almost mid-January. The planting will soon begin... In another week or two, black plastic trays full of soil, seed and potential will sit next to the fire. When green sprouts show bright against the dark soil, the trays will find home on the light shelves. Six weeks later (weather permitting) the young seedlings will go into the garden soil, protected by plastic covered tunnels.

It is difficult to say just what reminded me of the lateness of the season... something in the shifting angle of the sun's rays perhaps... certainly not the weather. I woke this morning to an outdoor temperature of 6 degrees Fahrenheit... typical January weather. We've had several threats of snow and other precipitation in recent weeks, but nothing more than a sprinkle or a dusting. I would like to see some real precipitation, however, as the dry weather is worrisome.

In spite of the cold, gardening is not at a total standstill. The realization that planting begins soon also sparked a slight panic. So many winter garden projects wait to be done, remulching paths, moving stones to line some of the said paths, pruning, compost spreading. Where has the winter gone?

Green things still grow under plastic covered tunnels (this morning covered with blankets), as well -- kale mostly, but some cilantro, and one red cabbage. As light increases, they will begin growing again.

A couple of weeks ago, I dug in the dirt for the last time before the soil froze. This was not a planting foray, but a harvest. I dug the last bits of serviceable horseradish, leaving (I hope) sufficient roots for another crop this coming fall.

Finally, after five or six years of growing it, I've made use of the horseradish. I've always liked horseradish, but once we pretty much quit eating meat I kind of thought that we would have little use for it. I had the short-sighted notion that horseradish was good only for dressing roast beef or making cocktail sauce. How wrong I was.

We've taken to putting horseradish on many things. We've topped our red bean chili, spiced up our black beans further, topped roast squash and baked sweet potatoes, added punch to roasted vegetables. Lately I've had this urge to pare horseradish with apples. I will let you know how that turns out.

It appears that I've been ignoring my German roots by ignoring the horseradish. One traditional dish is shredded horseradish and red beets. Better plant beets this fall.

Not only have my German ancestors relished in the pungency of horseradish, but many, many generations of humans have cultivated and made use of this hardy vegetable. At least 3,500 years ago, ancient Egyptians grew and ate horseradish. I'm not sure whether they used it as a food or medicine or both. Supposedly, a Delphic oracle in ancient Greece told Apollo that horseradish was worth its weight in gold.

Horseradish has great value in treating and preventing upper respiratory illness. Not only does it possess antimicrobial properties -- killing microorganisms that make us sick -- it also helps treat some of the symptoms.

One of the beauties of horseradish is that it is perennial; a very hardy perennial. I planted and simply ignored mine, although some cultivation information suggest it likes fairly moist soil. I've never watered it, even in those super hot and dry years. Horseradish spreads a bit and is not easy to eradicate once established, so consider well the planting site. It generally has no disease problems. And even though it is attacked by the same pests that munch on cabbages and mustards (which it is related to), that hasn't seemed to reduce its vigor.

Not only do I plan to make a habit of digging and using my existing horseradish, I hope to plant more. I prepared my first batch of it the night before Thanksgiving. The resultant "mustard gas" created by the grinding process cleared my sinuses for a good long time and caused a copious
flow of tears. If it had not been able to clear quickly, it might have even cause some damage to my mucous membranes. Prepare where you have ventilation. I made a second batch a few days later. We are nearly at the end of our prepared horseradish. The roots I dug recently won't make lots of sauce, though, and we will certainly run out of it before it can be dug again. So I will plant more this spring to bolster our supply, as we will certainly miss it when it is gone.

Horseradish is simple to plant. Purchase, or obtain from a fellow gardener, short sections (5 or 6 inches) of thin root. Usually, the end that goes down is cut at an angle, otherwise you wouldn't know which end is up. dig a hole and set the root in at a 45-degree angle, then cover, making sure the top is a couple of inches deep. Then all you need to do is wait. Or maybe water the newly planted horseradish if the weather is dry. Horseradish growers are of different opinions as to when horseradish should be dug. Some dig it in spring, others in the fall after the leaves have been singed by frost. Supposedly, spring-dug roots are more pungent. My fall-dug roots were pungent enough, thank you very much. It also can be planted in spring, or in the fall at the same time you would plant garlic.

The very young, tender spring leaves of horseradish also are edible and can add spice to sandwiches and salads. Louise Riotte, in Astrological Gardening, recommended cooking the young horseradish greens with another early spring green, nettles.

Another health benefits of horseradish is as an anti-inflammatory. You can take oral preparations and use it topically to assist aching muscles and arthritic joints, to clear up skin issues, and treat sciatica. Internally it is considered beneficial in treating urinary tract disorders, as well as to expel intestinal worms.

After digging horseradish roots, scrub off the dirt and wrap roots in perforated plastic or place in an unsealed plastic bag. Do not seal the bag, as you will find mold growing later on. Unprepared root will keep for a few months. Prepared root loses flavor and pungency fairly quickly. You can grind and use horseradish without adding vinegar, but you must use it right away or it discolors and loses potency.

To prepare horseradish
Clean and scrape fresh root.
Place chunks in heavy duty food processor or blender (I use a Vitamix).
Add water and puree. Add less water than you think you will need at first and add more as it appears to be needed.
When you have a fine puree, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar for each cup of prepared horseradish, (The blender should have measuring marks on it.) Blend just long enough to fully mix in the vinegar.
According to all my sources, the longer you wait to add the vinegar (up to 3 minutes) after pureeing, the more pungent the horseradish will be, as vinegar stops whatever process creates the mustard oil However, we can tell little difference between the batch to which I added the vinegar immediately and the batch that I waited a little while. Both are quite powerful.

1 comment:

Brian B said...

"They put too much radish in this. I can hardly taste the horse."