• Editor’s Note Winter 2009

    Editor’s Note Winter 2009

    Community isn’t the easiest word to define. It’s used differently by biologists, anthropologists, sociologists, political theorists, computer scientists, legal scholars, and economists. In sociology, nearly 100 definitions have been concocted since the 1950s, according to Wikipedia. (Yes, it even has its own Wikipedia entry.) The local food movement uses the word often, talking about “community-supported agriculture” and how farmers’ markets, gleaning initiatives, and farm-based educational programs “build community.”

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  • Diary of a Farm Apprentice—Part 3: Fall

    Diary of a Farm Apprentice—Part 3: Fall

    Eating is not only, as Wendell Berry put it, an agricultural act. It is an emotional and social one—an act of community. During my months as a farming apprentice, I found that some of the most surprising and powerful benefits of farming can be found in the relationships that are formed: with the land, with customers, with fellow farmers, and with the wider community. I experienced all these relationships firsthand during the past spring and summer. As a result, my apprenticeship taught me human lessons, as well as agricultural ones.

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  • Bread and Horses

    Bread and Horses

    A flock of geese pick through the frost-wilted remnants of a huge vegetable garden, and behind the new farmhouse the Green Mountains rise up beyond acres of fields. Erik and Erica Andrus and their seasonal interns are returning this Ferrisburgh farm to productivity, and they are doing so in some unusual ways: they are growing a portion of the wheat that is used in the bread they sell; they are using horses instead of tractors; and they are operating what may be Vermont’s only bread-and-dessert CSA.

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  • Set the Table with Horseradish

    Set the Table with Horseradish

    If, like many of us, you are struggling to pay for heat this winter and are keeping your thermostat down in the 50-degree range, you might like to know about a vegetable with an amazing capacity to warm you from the inside out. One taste—even one whiff—of the stuff and a jolt of heat travels from your nose to the top of your head and then permeates your entire body, guaranteed to banish any lingering chill. I’m talking about horseradish, that venerable old root that, in the Jewish tradition, is essential for a proper Passover Seder (the horseradish root, or moror, represents the bitterness of slavery).

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  • Wood Smoke, a Touch of the Earth

    Wood Smoke, a Touch of the Earth

    I spent two years with my head in an oven. Not just any oven, but a wood-fired oven. Built of French clay and steel and copper, it sat on an iron plate atop a wooden platform. And it had wheels.

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  • Have a Cow

    Have a Cow

    I wanted to milk a cow the way Thoreau wanted to build a house on a pond and live deliberately: not just because, gee, wouldn’t it be nice, but because I wanted to make a pilgrimage without a suitcase, a quest without leaving town. To Milk A Cow became my goal, my dream, my mission. Not just any cow, my cow. I pictured our milking chores like vespers, the two of us sequestered in the cob-webby milking chapel, me with my forehead bowed against her flank, the strong streams of milk chanting when they hit the side of the steel pail.

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  • Neighborhood Investments

    Neighborhood Investments

    What’s a community to do when an essential institution goes missing? The village of Williamsville, northwest of Brattleboro, lost its historic general store two years ago when its owner decided to close its doors. Residents missed the store, and when they convened a meeting to discuss the loss, more than 40 people attended—a big meeting for tiny Williamsville, according to resident Dan Kinoy, who participated.

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  • Consumers as Coproducers

    Consumers as Coproducers

    People frequently ask me: Why is Vermont’s local food system so strong? Of course, it is difficult to name one reason. Is it the quality of our farmers who steward the land, mentoring each other and increasing in numbers annually? Is it the localvore movement, which is building a social food and farm network among neighbors and an organizing structure that addresses the barriers to greater local food production? Is it the 100 schools in Vermont that are integrating farm and food lessons into their curricula and partnering with farms to serve local foods in their cafeterias?

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  • Home for the Holidays—Vegan and Gluten-free Recipes

    Home for the Holidays—Vegan and Gluten-free Recipes

    Increasingly in my work as a baker and co-owner of On The Rise Bakery in Richmond, I am fielding questions such as, “My son-in-law is a vegan—do you have anything without dairy?” Or, “I was recently diagnosed with celiac disease—can you make a gluten-free dessert that my whole family will like?” One of our breakfast cooks even shared the following with us: “My grandmother seriously thought I could just eat around the pork in her baked beans, even though I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 10!”

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—A Fraîche Start

    Farmers' Kitchen—A Fraîche Start

    As I write this article, I am looking out at our first snowfall of the season. Though insignificant, it’s a hint of what’s to come. I reflect back over the summer and give thanks for the abundance we harvested from our small farm: the root cellar is neatly packed; the freezers are filled with our vegetables, grass-fed meats, and pastured poultry; and the shelves are stocked with canned goods, maple syrup, and homemade wine.

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  • Last Morsel—Winter Apples

    Last Morsel—Winter Apples

    Pruning in winter is about learning to see what you can’t see. Buds still dormant. Leaves and branches yet to appear. Angles of sun and shadow that change daily. Invisible apples. On a piercing blue-sky day last February, I followed Zeke Goodband, master orchardist at historic Scott Farm in Dummerston, as he walked among the apple trees that arched over the rolling hills of the orchard. I’ve asked him to teach me about pruning.

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Set the Table with Horseradish

Illustration: General History of Plants by John Gerard originally printed by Adam Islip Joice Norton and Richard Whitakers, London, 1633.

Written By

Tatiana Schreiber

Written on

June 28 , 2013

If, like many of us, you are struggling to pay for heat this winter and are keeping your thermostat down in the 50-degree range, you might like to know about a vegetable with an amazing capacity to warm you from the inside out. One taste—even one whiff—of the stuff and a jolt of heat travels from your nose to the top of your head and then permeates your entire body, guaranteed to banish any lingering chill. I’m talking about horseradish, that venerable old root that, in the Jewish tradition, is essential for a proper Passover Seder (the horseradish root, or moror, represents the bitterness of slavery). I remember it best as that red stuff we always put on gefilte fish when I was a kid, along with some gelatin and one circular slice of cooked carrot. I was surprised to learn at some later date that the real color of horseradish is white or beige; the red or pink of bottled horseradish usually comes from beet juice used as a coloring agent.

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), a member of the mustard family, is said to be native to Europe and Asia, but it has been naturalized here and today is an exceptionally vigorous plant that grows well in Vermont, although I’ve never seen it at a local farmers’ market. The plant has an illustrious history of both culinary and medicinal uses due to its heat. The potent fumes released when the root is grated come from its chemical constituents, “isothiocyanates released from the gulcosinolates sinigrin and 2-phenylethylglucosinolate by the naturally occurring enzyme myrosinase,” according to one herbal reference text. What this translates to is that the root is not pungent until it is damaged when you cut or grate it. Once you do, watch out!

Horseradish root has been used as an antiseptic, an antibiotic, a diuretic, and as a remedy for asthma, coughs, toothache, and cancer. It is high in vitamin C and has been used to cure scurvy. Of course, too much of a good thing can also be very bad: horseradish can be irritating to the intestinal tract and too much can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Its roots and leaves may be poisonous to livestock.

Such a powerful plant has other valuable attributes in the culinary realm, such as its preservative qualities: adding a few slices to your pickles can help them stay crisp (and will make them hot!). Horseradish has long been used in European and Slavic cooking, often eaten with fish or cured meats. Austrian spice aficionado Gernot Katzer reports that Austrians frequently mix freshly grated horseradish with grated apples (sour varieties preferred) and lemon to create a mixture called Apfelkren, eaten as a spicy relish with fried or cooked meat. This reminds me of that other delicious Passover combination—moror and charoset (sweet apple chutney), eaten between two pieces of matzoh, the combination of bitterness and sweet reminding us in freedom to recall the bitterness of slavery, and in times of oppression to keep hope alive. But before I begin to wax philosophical, let me get to the pragmatic. How do you grow the stuff?

It’s easy—perhaps too easy. Both the Fedco and Territorial Seed Company catalogs, which offer horseradish roots for sale, warn that it should be isolated from the rest of one’s garden, as even tiny roots will re-grow. The plant has large dock-like leaves that grow as tall as three or four feet. It’s a perennial and can be grown in any soil rich in organic matter; it is said to like potash. Mine is happy in a sunny spot, but it may grow equally well in partial shade. The roots can be planted either in the early spring or in the fall. Harvest should only take place when the plant is not actively growing, again, in early spring or late fall. After harvest, you can use the main root for horseradish preparations, and replant the many smaller “runner roots” for your next crop.

While horseradish is best freshly grated, it is easy to preserve with vinegar. Grate horseradish by hand or in a food processor (taking care to turn your face away as you do it); add enough vinegar to cover the horseradish and store in the refrigerator. Since the addition of vinegar halts the enzymatic process that creates the heat, timing is important. Add the vinegar immediately for a milder preparation. Let it sit a bit if you want it hotter. You can also dilute the vinegar with water if you prefer a less vinegary mix. Adding some crushed ice as you process the root in a food processor seems to help grind up the woodier roots, and I’ve discovered that the more finely you grate the root, the more strongly flavored it will be.

Horseradish roots are available from Fedco Trees, which has an order deadline of March 13. Go to www.fedcoseeds.com and click on Fedco Trees.

Prepared horseradish is available at local co-ops. One supplier is Rabbi’s Roots in Shelburne: 802-744-2095. Uncle Dave’s Kitchen in Bondville sells horseradish
mustard: 802-297-0008.

Illustration: General History of Plants by John Gerard originally
printed by Adam Islip Joice Norton and Richard Whitakers, London, 1633.
Reproduced with permission from Dover Publications, Inc.

About the Author

Tatiana Schreiber

Tatiana Schreiber

Tatiana Schreiber grows and sells heirloom and unusual varieties of eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes, as well as medicinal and culinary herbs, at her farmstead, Sowing Peace Farm, in Westminster West. She also teaches ecological agriculture and other topics at local colleges.

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Home Stories Issues 2009 Winter 2009 | Issue 7 Set the Table with Horseradish