Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Making horseradish, a family tradition October 24, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:58 AM
Tags: , , , , ,


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


26 Responses to “Making horseradish, a family tradition”

  1. treadlemusic Says:

    How/what is the ratio of vinegar to horseradish?? Enough to allow for the processor to work it down to a creamy stage???? We have tried several methods but don’t own a large food processor. It is such a fibrous thing that we had problems with it, as you did with the grinder. Love how Mom supervised…….as well she should!!!! LOL!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I asked my sister that very same question about the amount of vinegar. She couldn’t give me a specific answer as she knows how much to add because she’s been doing this for so many years. But, for 66 jars (which ranged in size), just over two gallons of vinegar were used.

      My mom has always held a supervisory role. Smart woman.

  2. This is just a fascinating process. I marvel at the idea that it is washed in the washing machine and all the work involved. I am also a little in awe of that amazingly clean garage. In our garage, one would be dodging sports equipment, tools, flower pots, and other assorted junk. I’m not much of a horseradish fan, but I, too, would have loved to have participated in such a great family tradition. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      This is the first year the horseradish was washed in the washing machine. My brother and Vicki also washed cucumbers in the washing machine before making pickles.

      Yes, I am in awe of the clean garage, too. But Brian has a second, and much larger, garage for all of his tools, equipment, stuff.

  3. What a cool tradition! I’ve never seen this done, so really appreciate the photos. I had no idea how horseradish was made till now. My favorite part is that you give it away in honor of your dad. Beautiful.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      This is my first time in on the horseradish making so this was an education for me, too. I was “ordered” (no whining) to peel every speck from the roots as the horseradish must be pure white without any brown. Apparently the crew did a good job as I heard my sister tell my brother, “Gol, this is nice and white, Brian.”

      And, yes, I love that we honor Dad by giving away the horseradish. My husband and I have already given away two of the six jars we brought home.

  4. Thanks for sharing – would have loved to see this done in person. Made sauerkraut growing up and still love it today! Happy Day:)

  5. Lanae Says:

    Just remember that we EXPECT you to help every year!!!! You will notice that when I am using the blender my glasses are on top of my head. The fumes are so strong it burns my eyes. To take a guess at the amount of horseradish to vinegar. Horseradish 3 cups, vinegar maybe 2 cups. I just pour it in and blend if I need more of either I add it in.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I feel like I didn’t “help” all that much this year given all the photos I was taking. I appreciate that you and Brian allowed me to do that and didn’t pressure me to “get to work, Audrey.”

      Thanks for the additional info on the horseradish to vinegar ratio.

      We’ll be back next year…

  6. Patrick L Coleman Says:

    Great tradition! Nice to honor your father by giving it away.

    Your project reminds me of a story. I am an urban gardener with very many hostas, over a thousand. At one neighborhood party a fellow asked me whether I sold any. Without thinking I blurted out, “Heavens no. I’m a Democrat, I give them away.”

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Hilarious story. I’m not a Democrat and I still give stuff away.

      It was great reconnecting with you and Donna at Crossings last Friday evening. Such a fun event, mingling with other writers and artists and guests. Keep me posted on your book project. I would love to read it when you’re finished.

  7. Jackie Says:

    Ah, what a lovely tradition your family has carried on. I’m sure your dad would be proud and especially delighted to see his family gathered together to laugh, share stories and remember him. I am not a lover of horse radish but I really did enjoy the tutorial on making it, I didn’t realize all the steps to the process. I chuckled at your mention of red Jello with or without banana’s…love it! I must mention also, your mom is adorable! Thanks for sharing your family traditions, I learned something new today 🙂

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Love my mom. She has been through so many health issues in her life: heart valve replacement surgery @ 30 years ago, breast cancer, etc., nearly lost her a number of years ago. We treasure every moment with her. She is the sweetest, most kind and loving person you could ever meet. I wish she was nearer than 2 1/2 hours away.

      She and my sister made the red Jell-O with bananas because they knew we would get a kick out of it for the memories it would bring. They also brought peach halves and cottage cheese, another Mom special when we were growing up. Scoop cottage cheese into the peach half and place on a lettuce leaf and, ta-da, salad.

  8. That is so cool! And I love the workbench turned work station. What a wonderful tradition….I’m not so much a horseradish fan…but you made me want to try it!
    And love your Mom, keeping an eye on all of you!

  9. Amy Says:

    My parents have some that hasn’t been touched for 10 years or better I would guess! I am sure that my dad would LOVE for you to process it, as long as he got a jar or two to eat 🙂 I have participated in this process ONCE, and IF I ever do again, It WILL BE outside….we did it in my parents kitchen….it was AWFUL! But yes, memories were made and I still think about it, it was a fun time, but if someone doesn’t believe you about it being pungent…..have them join the party!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Alright, Amy, thank you for directing me to your parents’ horseradish patch. I hope I don’t forget in a year. And, yes, we’d most certainly gift your dad with the finished product.

      You are absolutely right about the fumes. We opened the double garage doors more than once or fled the garage.

  10. virgil Says:

    We also made it growing up and had fun with the tradition, my Dad being the chief supervisor. One time we did it in the house and had to turn on all the fans and go to the Dairy Queen for a eye/nose break while the house aired out.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      We are fortunate that my brother has a great garage for horseradish making. I cannot imagine tackling this project in the confines of a kitchen/house. But most definitely a good excuse for a DQ break.

  11. I had no idea that it grew from the scraps and that it needs 3 years or so to harvest! Wow. The things you learn. But as for eating it…you can keep it. There is one salmon dip recipe I LOVE that calls for it but other than that I’ve never used it! I did eat – and kind of enjoy – sauerkraut when up in the Cities with Colin….I was proud of myself for that!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.