Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Minnesota family tradition: Honoring Dad by making horseradish October 7, 2013

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Horseradish planted last year in my brother's garden and ready to harvest in a few years. This year's horseradish came from a patch near Sanborn.

Horseradish planted last year in my brother and sister-in-law’s garden and ready to harvest in a few years. This year’s horseradish came from a patch near Sanborn.

FOR MY EXTENDED FAMILY, making horseradish marks a time-honored tradition started by my father and my Uncle Mike decades ago.

Dad died 10 years ago, Uncle Mike before him, and, for awhile, so did the annual ritual of making horseradish. In his last years, Dad made horseradish with my sister Lanae and her husband, Dale.

Washing mud and dirt from the horseradish roots with the garden hose is the first step after digging.

Washing mud and dirt from the horseradish roots with the garden hose is the first step after digging.

Then, in recent years, Lanae and my brother Brian restarted this family tradition. The past two autumns, my husband and I have traveled the 120 miles to Brian’s rural Lamberton home to peel and slice, process and bottle horseradish. Mostly, I’ve documented the process with my camera although I’ve also assisted (some) with the actual making of this condiment.

To be honest, the horseradish isn’t the reason I’m there. It’s the cherished time with my mom (also known as “The Supervisor”) and extended family that draws me back to my native southwestern Minnesota prairie. We are building memories and honoring the memory of my farmer father.

Dad would delight in our gathering—in hearing the laughter and bullshit (sorry, I can’t think of a better word choice) and seeing us together. Dad was all about family.

Like our father before us, we give away our horseradish. My husband and I gathered a baker’s dozen jars to take back to Faribault for Mick and Mooch, Howard and Neal, and Dan, Steve and John, and a few others who appreciate a good taste of potent, eye-stinging, nostril-clearing horseradish.

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THE STEP-BY-STEP PROCESS:

After the initial washing of the roots, the stems are trimmed away and the horseradish goes into a laundry bag for washing in the washing machine.

After the initial washing of the roots with a garden hose, the stems are trimmed away and the horseradish goes into a laundry bag for washing in the washing machine. Do NOT add laundry detergent.

The crew (not all shown) prepares to peel the brown outer layer from the roots. Remove all of the brown so the end product is a creamy white.

Part of the crew, left to right around the tables, Julie (a friend of my brother and his wife, and a newcomer) and family members Adrienne, Adam, Andy, Lanae and Tara, prepare to peel the brown outer layer from the roots. All of the brown is removed so the finished horseradish is a creamy and unblemished white.

Once peeled, the horseradish is dumped back into a laundry bag for a second wash in the washing machine. Do NOT add detergent.

Once peeled, the horseradish is dumped back into a laundry bag for a second wash in the washing machine. Do NOT add detergent.

Once out of the washing machine, the process of chopping the horseradish begins.

Once out of the washer, the horseradish is chopped.

Lots of horseradish to cut in to small pieces.

Lots of horseradish to cut in to small pieces.

Next, the horseradish pieces go into the food processor, operated here by my husband, Randy.

Next, the horseradish pieces go into the food processor, operated here by my husband, Randy.

Brian, left, and Lanae blend the horseradish with vinegar in blenders while Randy uses the food processor.

Brian, left, and Lanae blend the horseradish with vinegar in blenders while Randy uses the food processor.

Sometimes the powerful pungent fumes overpower the workers.

Sometimes the powerful pungent fumes overpower the workers.

Adrienne buried her nose in her sleeve and stepped out of the garage a few times when she couldn't handle the overwhelming sting of the horseradish.

Adrienne buries her nose in her sleeve and stepped out of the garage a few times when she couldn’t handle the overwhelming sting of the horseradish.

Once blended to just the right consistency with the correct amount of vinegar, the horseradish is poured into jars.

Once blended to just the right consistency with the correct amount of vinegar, the horseradish is poured into jars.

Lots and lots of jars of all sizes will hold the horseradish.

Lots and lots of jars of all sizes will hold the horseradish.

The Supervisor, aka my mom, Arlene, shows up to inspect.

“The Supervisor, ” aka my mom, Arlene, shows up to inspect.

After hours of labor, the beautiful results. Creamy white horseradish.

After hours of labor, the beautiful results. Creamy white horseradish.

As the final step, The Supervisor steps in to count the jars. My sister-in-law, Vicki, watches my mom at work.

The Supervisor counts the jars., 70 total ranging in size from baby food jars to around 12-ounce size. My sister-in-law, Vicki, watches my mom at work. At one point, when my brother suggested an easier method of counting, The Supervisor told him to “shut up.” We all cracked up. We know who’s boss, and it isn’t Brian.

The last step is to take the peelings and horseradish tops to the garden for planting. We want to assure that we will have horseradish for years to come, holding on to traditon, building memories.

The last step is to take the peelings and horseradish tops to the garden for planting. We want to assure that we have horseradish for years to come, holding on to tradition, building memories and honoring our dad.

CLICK HERE TO READ last year’s post about making horseradish.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling