Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Humble Horseradish

Did it ever strike you as odd that here in the U.S. we celebrate a harvest festival at the end of November? Seems to me the garden harvest throughout the northern tier of the country (at least) has been over for some time, back when the harvest moon was shining on—the harvest moon is either September or October, depending on when the full moons occur in those months. Could it be that Thanksgiving, like health care, is another thing the Canadians have figured out better than we have? They celebrate Thanksgiving in October….

The popularization of Thanksgiving (a 19th ce
ntury phenomenon) is a fascinating story, but not my story for today—actually, it’s a topic my better half, Eberle knows more about than me. In fact, I discovered yesterday that Eberle knows a whole lot about several very fascinating Thanksgiving topics, & I’m thinking next year at this time might be a good time for a guest blogger—or two, because it also turns that our SoCal pal Audrey Bilger knows lots about these subjects, too. So here’s an open invite to Eberle & Audrey to start thinking about spending Thanksgiving season 09 on Robert Frost’s Banjo…. tho I should say that in this case, Eberle was essentially the guest blogger—I'm pretty the amanuensis today.

But I digress. Because going back to my original point, we did discover one superb reason for Thanksgiving falling so late in the year, & that involves the humble horseradish.

The horseradish (Armoracia rusticana for you Latin freaks out there) is related to some other wonderful plants, like the cabbage, mustard & wasabi
. As I’m sure you know, horseradish has a delightful “kick.” Take a look at the site to learn all kinds of interesting facts about this venerable plants, including how a mispronunciation of the German word “meer” (sea) as “mare” may have led to its current English name.

Eberle’s wonderful garden has its own horseradish plant. She tells a good tale about this as well: seems when s
he first moved to Indian Valley, she really wanted to grow horseradish, so she bought a plant—only to realize later that there were several horseradish plants thriving around the property, since from one perspective the horseradish is a highly invasive weed. Because of this, some folks grow their horseradish in a bottomless 5-gallon bucket. Eberle, however, has hers pretty well surrounded by garden paths, & so has managed to keep it in a spot where it thrives nicely.

Yesterday evening she went out & dug up the wonderful horseradish you see in the pic above. Then she began to prepare the horseradish for making the delightful sauce I’m actually writing about here—nothing like taking a circuitous route (pun possibilities here) to the point.

The leaves need to be cut off the root, a rather messy task that’s best accomplished outside & probably requires something like stout garden clippers. Eberle notes that you only have to leave a small amount of horseradish root in the ground for the plant to return the following year. After you’ve lopped off the leaves, you then wash the roots with a produce brush & peel them. Now comes the “fun” part, & I use that term very loosely. You need to grate the horseradish, which one hopes is the closest you will ever come to chemical warfare. Apparently there’s some enzyme that gets all riled up when the root is grated & produces this pungent, & I do mean pungent, odor. Did I say it’s pungent? You should be wearing a rubber glove when handling the root, & you should be running any & all ventilation fans full bore. You should be prepared to cry & have excruciating sensations in your sinuses & lungs. But it’s all worth it! Trust me!
While you are still capable of doing so, you should heat olive oil & butter on low heat. Unlike your truly, who’s very keen on measurements when cooking, Eberle’s an improviser at heart, whether in the kitchen or in the music room (I also tend to play songs rather than jam on the Dorian scale for extended periods, too). Hey, it’s fine with me, ‘cause she’s a great cook. But this is a long lead in to say that the measurements are a bit impressionistic. Eberle estimates that if you have about a cup of grated horseradish, you’ll want to heat about 3 TBSP of butter & 3 TBSP of olive oil. Yesterday evening, she was in a grating frenzy (inspired, she said by the fame of appearing on Robert Frost’s Banjo) & ended up with close to two cups of horseradish—so we ended up heating 7 TBSP of olive oil & 6 TBSP of butter. Eberle says the point is that the grated horseradish should have a moist consistency when stirred with the butter & oil (see pic above). You can also add 1 tsp of honey either with the butter & oil or at the time you add the grated horseradish. Finally, you stir in apple cider vinegar. For this batch, we used ½ cup plus two TBSP, so you probably can do the math for a smaller amount—I’m guessing ¼ cup plus a TBSP (which I believe is 5 TBSP) for about a cup of horseradish. In any case, Eberle says it should make the mixture look like a “nice sauce” that you’d like to see on a plate. Any other ingredients? You bet! Salt to taste (we use a small amount), & somewhere between a dash & a pinch of cayenne.

By the way, Eberle insists on apple cider vinegar in this case, tho she points out tha
t she typically uses seasoned rice vinegar in cooking. She notes that the “native” taste of the apple cider vinegar works bests with the horseradish.

Once you’ve stirred the sauce to a nice smoothish consistency, place it in a clean, d
ry jar, & allow it to cool before sealing the cover. You should refrigerate the sauce. We know from experience it will last at least 3 months (about the length of the average Indian Valley winter)—we’ve never had any left at the end of this time, so we can’t speak about longer storage.

Today, we’ll be steaming some Brussels sprouts (you also could grill them) & serving them with this delightful sauce. It’s interesting to me how foods from
the same general plant family are so often complementary: Brussels sprouts are of course a form of cabbage, & horseradish is related to that noble family. Of course, in this case the “nobility” is really rather humble at heart, since all forms of the cabbage have been seen historically as peasant fare. But they’re delicious nonetheless. Of course, you can also use this sauce for fish or beef dishes, & really in any application where you want that singular horseradish kick. We serve the sauce at room temperature.

By the by, Eberle wants to be sure we mention that the original recipe for this sauce comes from our Portland pal Sue Rubin; we'll have the great pleasure of celebrating this Thanksgiving with Sue & her very own Okie husband Jay Atchison, who's just about the best breakfast cook around!

& to Robert Frost's Banjo readers: Have a Happy Thanksgiving, & as our hero Julia Child would say, “Bon Appétit!

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