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Your guide to Chesaeake Country's freshest produce and more!

Warm Up Your New Year

If you’ve grown horseradish, it’s time to harvest and prepare it

Did you remember to plant horseradish? If so, you’re in for a treat.
    Horseradish is a hardy herbaceous perennial plant that produces fleshy roots. Now that the tops of horseradish plants have died back to the ground, it is time to dig up the roots and make next year’s supply of ground horseradish.
    Some of the roots are carrot-like but most are smooth and slender, averaging one-half to three-quarters-inch in diameter and growing horizontally in the ground.
    Even fresh dug, the roots are powerfully pungent. Dig them up when there is a slight breeze to minimize watery eyes. Use a digging fork to minimize cutting the roots and having to harvest small pieces.
    Start by digging and lifting the first crown near the edge of the planting. Once you lift the first crown from the soil, you will be able to see how the roots are distributed. As I dig the roots, I immediately dump them into a five-gallon pail of water, which minimizes watering eyes.
    After you have dug all of the roots, select the smallest crowns — ones with one to two roots that are two to three inches long — for planting next year’s crop. Space the crowns at least 12 inches apart. Amending the soil with a liberal amount of compost will not only make digging easier next year but also provide all essential nutrients, thus eliminating the need to apply fertilizer.
    Rinse the roots you’ll harvest several times with clean water to remove soil. Dump the dirty, muddy water on the compost pile before bringing the roots in the house for cleaning and processing. Keep the roots in water to minimize teary eyes.
    Using a short bristle vegetable brush, scrub each piece of root under water. Use a pairing knife to scrape away any dark areas that cannot be removed with the brush. Chop the roots into small pieces and place in a food processor to grind to a fine texture. Allow the ground roots to stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. The longer you allow the ground horseradish to stand, the stronger it becomes. Waiting more than 30 minutes is a mistake.
    Add approximately 1⁄4 teaspoon of salt per cup of ground root and sufficient vinegar to create a smooth, creamy blend.
    I store ground horseradish in one-cup canning jars with tight lids. Fill the jars to the rim so as to eliminate air space and refrigerate immediately. The potency of horseradish is lost when exposed to oxygen.
    I test the potency of my horseradish by inviting a son-in-law to taste it. He can eat hot peppers as if they were Hershey’s kisses. If upon placing one-fourth teaspoon of my freshly made horseradish in his mouth, his eyes start watering and his face turns cherry red, I know it is so potent that I must minimize its use in baked beans and in cocktail sauce.
    Happy New Year!

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at frgouin@erols.com. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.