Dad's Dilemma. He Agonized Over Harvesting and Making Fresh Horseradish, or Fish for His Beloved Trout

Author Photo
By Vern

He was my hero, and I still miss him after all these years. When Dad started talking about fishing along with Cole crops, I knew we would be joining him on those cold days of spring to fish for trout, after the early crops got planted. Simply put, he fished and took us along.

He and Mom just planted the early garden of onions, peas, lettuce and potatoes, often referred to as Cole crops. Not exactly accurate. The word Cole crops comes from the word cruciferae family of cabbage, broccoli, etc., which will withstand cold weather. They planted early vegetables in a cold ,wet garden, and lumped them all together. Being ten I agreed, and obeyed my parents.

However, that being said, Dad created a problem that only he could fix.

Trout season in Pennsylvania, back then, always, religiously came in the middle of April.  It became a un-designated state holiday, because everyone, and I do mean everyone, stopped the task at hand and went fishing. The season opened on a Saturday, and continued until September. Dad and his boys always got to go the first day. After that, conscience kicked in.

Although the early crops were planted, in the back of his mind, Dad knew the horseradish needed tending. Someone along the way gave him some roots which he planted in our always fertile soil, and they grew like a weeds. Every year we took out what we could find, and in mid-summer un-dug roots began to show their tops. And so it went from year to year.

Now the dilemma, whether to fish or harvest the horseradish. As he got older, Dad got smarter (ha-ha). We did both.

The horseradish grew in the meadow, which remained wet for a long time. Eventually it dried off some, and we began the hard, difficult task of digging up the roots. Sometimes the clumps were so big, we had to break them apart so all fit into the wheel-barrow.

The next job, cut the clumps apart and rinse them off. Then the long roots as well as the bulky body of the plant were placed in a galvanized tub and covered with water, and the brushing, scraping and peeling began. The water required changing quite often. Sometimes this took two or three weeks. Dad agonized over this long task because the fisherman in him did not want to be there. He did it for us and I remember him working late into the evenings just to complete the job. Finally, the tub revealed an abundance of clean, pure white roots, ready for grinding.

We butchered quite often, so Dad set up the sausage grinder, outside, of course, hooked it to an electric motor, and the task began.

For those who are familiar with horseradish, it is a very powerful, hot vegetable, but oh so good. We ground the roots, and into the mixture Dad added white vinegar and sugar. As I said before it is a very powerful, odorous vegetable. Sometimes the air would carry the scent of the juices to our nostrils, and for a brief time the air we breathed did not exist, exhaling not being an option. We jarred the product and sold it to friends and family.

My very best memory of horseradish; That horrible, stinging, wonderful sensation up the nose. Mom, in the eyes of this young boy, was the best cook, ever. Sometimes she made us cheeseburger patties for supper. Nothing compared to taking that first bite of a juicy burger, laden with fresh tomato and onion from the garden, and of course a generous gob of freshly made horseradish. The vapors went directly to the  brain. Death came close when the pain subsided, and another big bite was taken to make sure that awful, wonderful pain came back again. Eating horseradish was an art. Putting that big gob of horseradish on the bottom of the patty delayed the pain for a while. I have tasted none better. Dad made it the best. I still miss him.

Published on May 3, 2013

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