Saturday, June 7, 2014

Processing Horseradish

Doom axes:
I think you suggested you grow horseradish? I would like to do that as well...
While speaking with my mother, though, she said she is done with the stuff. Neither love nor money could convince her to work with it. Hard to process, and akin to working with mace, she suggested.
So, if you have horseradish, and you do process it, is there a better way? 
I grow horseradish, process it, sell the crowns on ebay all winter at $3 apiece. I have two large beds presently and a freezer full of the stuff.  I love it, as it's about the easiest thing in the world to grow. And nothing is better on a rare sirloin than a dab of ground HR. As your mother noticed, however, it's not the easiest herb in the world to work with.

For making sandwich sauces and the like, here's how I do it:

1.  Dig the roots in late fall, after the tops die off but before the ground freezes. Timing affects the flavor, and dormant roots will give you the most mace for the buck.  With a 4' x 8' patch you'll have buckets, maybe a wheelbarrow full of thin, straight roots.  Cut off the top 4" of root and just shove it back in the ground with the crown up. That's next year's crop, and now that's out of the way.

2.  Wash the remaining roots and scrub off the mud chunks with a plastic brush. You're going to find some that are too big or too small to work with (either they break or you can't get the dirt out from between the folds).  Re-plant those pieces or mulch them depending on size - what you're looking for is straight pieces at least 6" long with a little body to them. Pencil-width or larger is plenty.

3.  Peel the skin off of the roots with a potato peeler.  This should leave you with long, straight, white roots.  So far, no mace, but that's coming soon enough.

4.  Dice the roots into 1/4" pieces.

5.  Now comes the fun part.  Find yourself an old blender, because what you're about to do is really hard on the machine.*  Drop enough of the diced roots into the blender to fill up the bottom 3-4" then fill to the top of the roots with white vinegar.

6.  Grind, starting coarse but going faster and finer, until the result is pretty much a paste.**    This is the part where the product resembles mace. DO NOT STICK YOUR NOSE OVER THE BLENDER.  If you find afterwards that the HR is not hot enough to knock your eyebrows out, you can start with less vinegar (the vinegar acts to reduce the heat).  But always add enough to keep your blender blades covered. The smoke of burning appliances adds nothing good to your final product, trust me.

7.  Scoop out the ground roots or dump the whole mess into a sieve and let the vinegar drain out. The more vinegar you remove, the hotter the batch will be.  If you're really a glutton for punishment, re-use the vinegar with the next batch of roots (there won't be much left, however). Keep filling, grinding, and draining until you run out of roots or until smoke comes out of the blender.

8. The resultant paste serves as the base for your preferred sauces.  Add it to ketchup to make cocktail sauce. Add it to Miracle Whip to make horsey sauce for burgers. You can add it to dijon mustard or chili sauce to give them a kick. Or you can just use it as is for steaks.  I slop my extra into Ball jars and put them the chest freezer - it will last a good year or longer. Of course, if you grow your own HR, you'll never need to store it that long anyway.

I never can horseradish, if by that we mean cook it and seal it in a jar.  I just grind it up one fall afternoon and freeze it.***  By the next summer it will have lost a little of its punch, unfortunately.  But that's ok, because fall is coming and you'll appreciate the new batch's pungency that much more.

* I destroy one at least every other year. Farm auctions, FTW!
** You can do this part without vinegar, but you'll need a new blender about every 30 seconds. That said, the more you grind before adding the vinegar, the hotter the result will be. There's a balance to these things.
*** You can always do it in small batches throughout the year as needed.  I just prefer to do it all at once.


  1. Okay, I think I can do that. Not sure about burning up a blender every other year, but... Meh... At $30 a pop, as I can't seem to hook into the household sale scene, as long as it's just every other year, and sort of expected. The idea is certainly interesting. Then again, I wouldn't be doing it for sale, so wouldn't be putting up as much, therefore wouldn't be burning out a blender that quickly.

    One last question though... Does the root itself eventually get too old, too strong? Or, the way you do it, does it keep the root from aging to much? I have heard that roots last about 40 years, which is a long time, but who knows the age of any root one is buying. Or does a fresh planting reset the timer? Or is that just an old wives' tale, meant to allow them out of a once seeming insufferable duty?

    Yes, yes, curiosity... and love of lore. Hasn't killed me yet, but it has sure tried! :)

  2. Never heard of a root getting too old to eat, but they can get too big, as I noted - they get unwieldy and hard to peel. They also get harder to grind. But re-plant a big chunk of it and you'll have a tender young root in no time.

    That big fat root you'd find in the store is a couple years old, at least. They grow fast but not THAT fast.