As you pull up to the Snavely home in Ohio on this late fall day, the first thing you notice is a crackling bonfire in the driveway. Several men gather around the black kettle suspended above the flames. Behind them are several tables. Men either stand or sit around them – all are laughing and talking; making homemade horseradish sauce with friends.
One night a year, you see pickups and cars line the road near Kevin Snavely’s rural Pandora, Ohio, home. Gathering in the late afternoon, visitors bring jars, white vinegar and their own horseradish roots. For the past 10 years, the group has gathered to grind horseradish for personal use.
“We usually have about 50 or 60 men show up,” Snavely says. “It started small and just grew.”
It began with two men, Snavely and his friend Ron Busch from Ottawa, Ohio. Co-workers at a manufacturing plant in Ottawa, both men enjoyed growing and grinding horseradish root for
“We would get together to make it,” Busch says. “It takes quite a bit of work and doing it together made the time go faster.”
Other co-workers became interested in growing their own horseradish.
“It’s easy to grow,” Busch says. “I would just take a cutting from my roots and give it to them for a start.” Busch and Snavely invited friends and co-workers who were growing their own horseradish to join together to make the root into a
“As word spread, we started getting guys showing up just offering to help if they could take home a few jars of their own horseradish,” Snavely says. “These guys would bring the white vinegar we put with the ground horseradish.” Everyone brings their own jars to what is now known as the annual horseradish-making party.
As the numbers of participants grew, Busch and Snavely looked for easier ways to accomplish some of the steps in making horseradish. They found two old wringer washing machines to clean the pungent roots. The wringers were taken off, and the machines are hooked up in Snavely’s side yard for the evening.
“It works great,” Busch says. “We put clean water in the tubs and throw in the dirty roots. The agitation washes the dirt off the roots.” He says they have to keep adding clean water.
“This part doesn’t require a lot of manpower, just when we change the water and take the roots in and out,” Busch says.
“That’s where the hard work is done.” Busch motions toward a group of men seated around a table. The men are using sharp knives to peel the horseradish roots. Joking and laughing, they keep a close eye on their work. The long, twisted roots of the horseradish can be difficult to peel. Unlike a carrot or potato, this vegetable root is often twisted
“This part of the job takes a lot of time,” Busch says. “So this is where you will find a lot of the guys working.”
Just beyond the men peeling the horseradish is a large meat grinder. Fans blow the pungent odor away from the two men feeding the peeled roots into the grinder.
“It can really make your eyes burn,” says Kenny Palte, as he feeds horseradish into the grinder. “I’m glad they have the fans set up.”
Once the horseradish is ground into large containers, it is taken to another
table where several men ladle the relish into different-sized containers. Then they pour white vinegar into the jars; the vinegar prevents the relish from becoming bitter. Filled jars line another table.
“Three years ago we made 30 gallons of horseradish,” Snavely says. “We had about 65 guys here working to make it.”
Snavely says he likes horseradish on anything: pork, hamburgers and even in soup. Busch says his favorite way to eat horseradish is on any pork cut. One worker said he likes to eat the condiment on hot dogs.
Back in the driveway, Dick Hoffman is busy cooking soup for the workers.
“I guess I’ve been doing this ever since the guys started making horseradish together,” Hoffman says. “I just make what Kevin asks for. Some years it’s vegetable soup, other years it’s been chili or cabbage soup.” Last fall he was busy making jambalaya soup. He insists anyone who ventures near the fire take a sample. Volunteers looking for a break wander over for a bowl of the hot soup.
“I like being here because it’s always a good time,” Hoffman says. “I think some of the guys come just for that.”
Snavely agrees. “When we’re done, everyone takes home what they think they need. It’s a good time.”