Horseradish belongs to the mustard family, and the mustard oil in the horseradish gives it that fantastic kick. While the roots of the horseradish plant are extremely pungent when grated or cut into, the mild young leaves of the plant are slightly bitter, but they bring a new taste to tossed salads. If you know how to grow your own horseradish, you'll always have a way to liven up even the most boring of recipes.
When planting horseradish, take into account that horseradish is generally grown from cuttings, or roots, from another horseradish plant. Because horseradish is very invasive, it should be planted in a contained area. However, due to the nature of horseradish roots, which grow out rather than down, any contained area should be large enough for sufficient growth. A 5 or 10-gallon pail with the bottom removed works well. Dig up the soil and loosen it, and then insert a 6 to 8-inch piece of fresh horseradish root. The top of the root should be about 4 inches below the ground surface.
Horseradish grows like a weed and thrives on neglect after it's established, but when first planted be careful that the weeds don't choke it out before it reaches the surface. Plant horseradish roots and, aside from keeping the area clear of weeds, ignore the plants until the second year harvest. Successive harvests can take place annually. To have fresh horseradish on hand year-round, plant several plants: Harvest one in the spring and one in the fall.
How to Make Horseradish
Making homemade horseradish in your own kitchen is an easy task, if you can handle the heat. If you can't, try working with the fresh horseradish outside. Once released, the mustard oil's pungent odor will stick around, reminding you for days that you just made horseradish.
If possible, cut the horseradish root and process it in the garage, or better yet, on the porch where you might have a nice breeze. If you must grind horseradish indoors, make sure you have an overhead fan turned on high and a fan set to blow the fumes away from you and out an open door or window.
Recipe for Homemade Horseradish
Ingredients You Will Need:
3 cups horseradish roots (cut into one-inch pieces)
½ cup cider vinegar
¾ cup water
Get started by digging up the entire horseradish plant. Rinse the roots, and cut several off, leaving enough to replant for next year's crop. Scrub the roots under cold water. To keep some of the biting aroma from getting to your eyes and nose, keep the cold water running while you peel the skin from the roots with a vegetable peeler. Cut the roots into one-inch pieces.
Place the cubed horseradish into a food blender. Add the cider vinegar and water, and blend for several minutes until the horseradish is completely ground. (Add more water if needed.) Drain the liquid, and store the finely ground horseradish in clean ½ pint canning jars. Keep the jars refrigerated. Horseradish will retain its kick for a few months. After that, the kick will begin to fade away.
If you can't process all the horseradish root right away, put the scrubbed roots into freezer bags, and place in the freezer, until ready to use.
If you plan on picking up your horseradish at the supermarket, it's important to purchase roots that are as fresh as possible. Fresh roots will be firm and heavy. Limp roots are already beyond their prime and will be bitter.
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