Saturday, October 24, 2009

First Annual Horseradish Harvest Festival

Lake Forest, Illinios

Did you get the invitation? No?! Oh, man, you missed out on the fall harvest event of the year! The First Annual Horseradish Harvest Festival. The horseradish plant my parents planted last spring was ready to be dug up, grated, mixed and juiced into courses and courses of nostril cleansing, fiery goodness.

Just to continue the insanity of Fall Travel 2009, Oscar and I decided to squeeze in a trip to Chicago to visit my parents. Ok, an airfare fire-sale, trips to Target and the promise of a true vacation where I get to sleep in and Oscar gets to bask in the glorious pampering love of his adoring, wonderful, oogling grandparents also had something to do with the decision to jump on a plane hot off our lobster-Maine blitz. And, oh the surprises that awaited us!!

My dad comes from a long-line of gardeners and has learned much from his self-proclaimed past life as a farmer. His carefully planted technicolor flower beds have been the setting for summer cocktails for as long as I can remember. Last spring, in keeping with the current trend towards ecological efficiency, Dad ripped out the beds of eye-catching daisies, lilies, and irises in favor of edible beauties: rainbow swiss chard, spicy radishes, sweet onions, mixed lettuces, heirloom tomatoes, precious herbs and the somewhat mystifying horseradish plant. The consumable garden was a huge success and the last of the hearty greens have made their way into hungry bellies and the first frost has left the patch looking like the perfect place to stick a plastic tombstone and a cackling skeleton. Only the bright green bush of the horseradish top remained.

Technically, horseradish is to be dug up in late fall when the leaves have already been killed by frost, or early in the spring when green is just barely beginning to show on the top of the crown. The flavor will be at its best if the horseradish is dormant-- after two hard frosts. There have not been two hard frosts, I would say, more like one soft frost, but patience is not in the Hooker nature, and someone said the words, “prime rib”, so out it must come!

The gnarly intertwined collection of pinky-thin roots was not what we were expecting, but not really knowing what to expect, we embraced our albino Medusa head of a root mass and began cleaning it and processing it. Digging, scrubbing, peeling, cutting, and blending all these action verbs can make a family thirsty! Not to fear, horseradish is near! The obvious libation is a Bloody Mary and seeing that it was before noon, perfectly acceptable. So we mixed up a batch, and toasted to the beginning of The Harvest Festival!

The first official event was that evening, featuring poached shrimp with zesty horseradish cocktail sauce. The main event was the following evening. My brother was flying in for it (and some not-nearly-as-important-other-things). The menu (prepared to perfection by my mother):

The First Annual Horseradish Harvest Festival Main Event
Oven Roasted Prime Rib, Served Medium Rare
Wild Mushroom, Swiss Chard and Gruyere Tart
Blanched Asparagus Spears
*Creamy Herbed Horseradish Sauce*

Initially, I assumed the horseradish sauce would be just for the prime rib, however, it proved to be delectable slathered all over everything on my plate. In celebration of this extraordinary agricultural/culinary event, the farmer/sommelier was summoned and wine fit for entertaining in-laws to be, celebrating only the most special anniversaries, and deals of a life-time was busted out to kick off what will surely be a yearly event. Wine tip: if you have Caymus Vineyards Cabernet 1992 and 1993 in the cellar, bring it up! The 1992 was so delicious and smooth, if not a bit past due, and the 1993 is spot-on fantastic. Honestly, what are you saving it for?

The beauty of an annual festival is you can begin planning the next year the day after it is over. My mom has put her vote in and Roasted Horseradish Chocolate Gelato will be on the menu next fall!

**Awesome Fun Fact: 2/3rds of the nation’s supply of horseradish roots are grown in Southern Illinois!

***Do not forget to save a piece of your horseradish plant for next year’s crop. Horseradish is the magical regenerating plant! Keep it at 40̊ degrees Fahrenheit until it is ready to plant, stick it in the ground and start menu planning!

1. Dig it up and clean it up and peel it.

2. Put the root in a food processor or blender with a little water and woosh it until you have reached the desired consistency. A finer grind will produce a hotter final product.

3. After the horseradish is at the desired consistency, add vinegar to stop the enzymatic action that controls how hot the final product is. For a milder horseradish, add vinegar immediately after grating. For a hotter product, wait up to 3 minutes to add it. Use 2 to 3 tablespoons of 5% white distilled vinegar per cup of grated horseradish. A half teaspoon of salt can also be added, to taste. Put the mixture in a glass jars and screw lid on tightly. Store in refrigerator or freezer.

Note: Make only small quantities of horseradish at a time – the biting taste fades within one to two months, even when refrigerated. To best preserve the flavor, freeze the root whole and process as you use it.

Horseradish on Foodista


  1. Great post!The harvest looks great and the meal that went along with it sounds delicious.I came across your site from the foodieblogroll and I'd love to guide our readers to your site if you won't mind.Just add your choice of foodista widget to this post and it's all set, Thanks!