Growing Horseradish: Beef-eaters’ delight
Horseradish has a pungent, peppery flavour, and the distinctive tang of horseradish sauce is a favourite accompaniment to beef.
Everyone loves horseradish sauce with cold meat, or a tangy horseradish-flavoured butter to pour over fish. The marvellous pungent taste can only be fully enjoyed if the horseradish is grated fresh just before use. Horseradish is not a difficult crop to grow, so why not save a small spot in your garden and grow yourself some of these delicious roots?
In cultivation since ancient times, horseradish probably originated in southeastern Europe or western Asia. It is used in cooking by many cultures, and it is traditionally used as one of the bitter herbs eaten during the Jewish Passover festival.
The horseradish plant (Armoracia rusticana) is a member of the Crudferae family, which includes the brassicas. A perennial herb, it bears large, glossy, spoon-shaped leaves, but unlike most other members of the family, it is almost never cultivated for the leaves, which are coarse and unpleasant in taste. Instead, it is grown for its thin, tapering, fleshy, whitish roots, which can reach up to 60 cm (2’) in length. The foliage reaches a height of about 60 cm (2’), and the plant produces small white flowers in summer on stems about 1.2 m (4’) tall.
A hardy perennial, horseradish will grow just about anywhere, and after dying down in autumn, it will sprout again in spring and will take over more ground each season if left to itself. However, if the plant is allowed to run rampant, the roots will be elongated and wispy, so it pays to take a bit of care with the crop.
Ground preparation is the major work in growing horseradish. Thorough preparation is essential to achieve a richof good depth where the roots will thrive. Keep in mind that it pays to be quite generous with horseradish, as other crops will also benefit when they are moved into the site as part of your rotation plan. However, horseradish can spread fast and be very difficult to eradicate without great care, and it may be better, in the long run, to grow it in isolated corners where its spread will not cause too much trouble.
Choose a small section of well-drained ground which gets full sun for at least part of the day. A rich soil is essential, and if your garden is not on deep, rich loam, you must add plenty of well-rotted manure, gardenor leafmould. The usual method of growing horseradish is to prepare square trenches in early spring. Each plant needs 1 sq m (1 sq yd), dug to a depth of about 60 cm (2’). Prepare the trenches in early spring, when roots for planting should be available from your local nursery or garden centre. To make the trenches, remove the topsoil and mix well-rotted manure or compost with the soil in the lower part of the trench at the rate of 5-7 kg per sq m (11-15 lb per sq yd). Then return the topsoil to the trench.
You are then ready to plant the roots. Plant them 45 cm (1-1/2’) apart and 10-15 cm (4-6”) deep in the trench, and cover with soil. Roots planted in early spring will be ready for harvesting by the following spring.
The horseradish bed requires only a minimum of care. Hoe to removein the early stages, and water in dry weather. If any of the outer leaves turn brown, remove them. The crop does not require winter protection, even in the coldest of years.
When the leaves are growing strongly in spring of the year after planting, then you are ready to begin digging the roots. Those roots near the surface should be harvested first. The vegetable is most flavourful when freshly dug; dig up what you require at one time and grate it immediately for the most pungent taste and aroma. The essential flavour disappears quickly if the plant is allowed to dry out.
You can leave horseradish in the ground for digging as required through the summer, and then in autumn you can lift the remaining roots and store them in dry sand, keeping them in a cool, dark place, to be used through the winter as needed. This is a good idea of you want to use the rich bed for another crop. In any case, you should lift the plants completely in the autumn of the second year after planting, or the bed will get out of control. Clear the ground completely of all pieces of root, or the plant will be a great nuisance. Divide the crop, keeping the thicker roots for the kitchen, and the small, thin ones (about pencil thickness) to replant in a new bed in autumn or the following late winter. Store them until required.
Use your horseradish in hot or cold sauces, in flavoured butters for fish dishes, to add a peppery tang to vinegars, or freshly grated for a pungent taste in salads. You can also dry horseradish and store the grated roots in a jar, but the flavour will not be as strong.