Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Making horseradish, a family tradition October 24, 2012

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On Saturday, my husband and I gathered with extended family in a garage just north of Lamberton in rural southwestern Minnesota for the annual making of horseradish, a tradition started by my horseradish loving father many years ago.

Freshly dug horseradish, soaking in water and ready to be washed.

Back in the day, my dad and bachelor uncle, Mike, would occasionally make horseradish. Eventually my sister Lanae (and later her husband, Dale, too) began assisting Dad with the digging and washing and peeling and slicing and processing of this pungent root. And then, when the creamy white sauce was bottled, Dad would haul it down to the Vesta Community Hall for the annual Senior Citizens’ craft/bake/produce sale. Folks would wait in line to snap up Vern’s homemade horseradish.

The 2012 horseradish making crew, front row, left to right, Randy, Tara, Lanae and Arlene. Back row: Andy, Brian and Vicki. I’m obviously missing from the photo as are Al and Alyssa, who arrived later.

Dad has been gone for nearly 10 years now, his annual root rite resurrected in recent years by Lanae and my middle brother, Brian. For the first time I joined them and other family in making horseradish, and, although I will eat horseradish, I am not a fanatical fan like my siblings and our father before us.

Peeling the horseradish, the third step after digging and washing.

But it wasn’t the horseradish which drew Randy and me to drive more than two hours to Brian and Vicki’s rural acreage to stand at tables in a garage on a chilly Saturday to process horseradish that would soon overwhelm us with eye-stinging fumes.

It was family and tradition and memory-building and time together which brought us to this peaceful place, to this land where I grew up some 25 miles to the north and west. Any reason to return to my beloved prairie.

My mother, the main supervisor, watches from her chair. Vicki, who is recovering from surgery, also supervised.

And so Randy and I were instructed in the art of horseradish making while my 80-year-old mother supervised from a comfy chair, occasionally rising to skirt the tables, to check the progress.

We listened to the tales of horseradish making past, when metal shavings from the old meat grinder flaked into the horseradish. We heard of Dad’s old drill shorting and shocking whoever was using the drill (which he had rigged to drive the meat grinder) to pulverize the roots.

First the food grinder was used…

And when the food grinder continually plugged, the food processor was put into action and this worked.

The old meat grinder and drill have been stashed away now, replaced first by a modern electric grinder (which failed to work as planned) and then by a food processor before the pulverized roots were mixed with vinegar in a blender.

Proof that honeymooners Al and Alyssa helped make horseradish.

As words and horseradish peelings flew and laughter bounced around the garage, it was sometimes difficult to separate fact from fiction, especially when the beer was cracked open upon the arrival of honeymooners Al and Alyssa. Al and his bride of one week, on their way home from Duluth to Tyler, pitched in. And I photographed them so some day their children will believe their parents made horseradish on their honeymoon.

My mom, the supervisor, counts jars. We filled 66, a smaller yield than normal. Horseradish not kept by family is given away (never sold) as our Dad, except for those he sold at the fundraiser, gave his away. We honor him by gifting horseradish lovers with a jar.

The supervisor counts the jars of horseradish.

These are the moments that matter most in life, the sweet times with family. And nothing touched my heart more than watching my aging mom, the supervisor, rise from her chair to meticulously count and record the yield.

AND FOR THOSE OF YOU unfamiliar with the entire process, here are additional photos to show you the steps needed to grow and make horseradish:


Plant the horseradish, which grows from the left-over scraps of roots, etc.


The plants will need to grow for about three years before you can reap the first harvest. We will be looking for additional horseradish to harvest in 2013. If you live anywhere near Lamberton, Vesta,  Faribault or Waseca, and have extra horseradish, let me know.

STEP 3: Dig up the roots; I missed photographing this given I arrived after the digging.


Wash the dirt from the roots using a hose.


Peel the roots, remaining aware that your work is being closely monitored by the supervisor, right.


Dump the horseradish into a laundry bag and wash in the washing machine, without detergent, of course, and I think on a gentle cycle. About this time, your crew can take a break and eat lunch which may or may not include red Jell-O with bananas.


Chop the machine-washed horseradish.


While one crew chops ,left, the other grinds the horseradish, step 8, with a grinder (fail) or food processor. The supervisor keeps a watchful eye over operations.


Dump the pulverized roots into the blender, add vinegar and blend until creamy. You may want to cover your face, or make a face, to deal with the eye-stinging fumes.

STEP 10:

Pour into jars and cap.

STEP 11:

Label the jars. Stash jars in refrigerator. Give away or eat.


Al and Alyssa’s dog, Lily, whom we had to keep from eating errant chunks of horseradish that fell onto the floor.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling