April is a difficult month for locavores. At a time when green shoots are coming up everywhere, and fruit trees are blooming, there is nothing green to eat, nor fruit to pick. The only edible things coming out of the earth in this season must be dug up, and that’s why horseradish is my subject. Planted in the spring, it grows all summer, fall and winter until a year later, it’s a root that looks like a shillelagh and acts like smelling salts.
Think of horseradish as Long Island mustard.
Matt Schmitt devotes about 20 acres of his 200-acre farm near Riverhead to growing horseradish, which he sells at the family’s farmstand, both fresh roots and jars of a sauce called Holy Schmitt’s.
Some of Schmitt’s customers use fresh horseradish for the Passover Seder, but he’s also busy supplying roots for people having horseradish parties, a spring celebration in which friends and family gather to eat fresh horseradish, cooked in dishes and raw, to invigorate the system.
The best way to get truly potent horseradish sauce is to make your own, and if you have a food processor it’s very easy, provided you don’t mind tearing up from the delicious, fruity fumes of crushed fresh root.
Add preserved horseradish to a sour cream-based dip, sauce, or to deviled eggs. Another very good use for fresh horseradish is in savory crackers. The cracker recipe (pictured above) is an adaptation of one on the King Arthur baking website, which is a great place to find trustworthy baking instructions.
Yield: about two cups (gluten-free recipe)
One large horseradish root, about 8 ounces, peeled and sliced crosswise into ½ inch thick pieces.
4-6 ounces apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1. Put the cut up horseradish a food processor and pulse until you have uniform, fine threads. No chunks. At this point, the pungent aroma of horseradish should make you weep. This is a sign of freshness!
2. Add about 4 ounces of the vinegar with the food processor running and process the mixture into a paste, add the salt and pulse again.
3.Scrape the mixture into a glass jar, press it down to remove air bubbles, and if necessary add more vinegar. The horseradish should be damp with vinegar.
4. Refrigerate in an airtight container. It will keep for at least 3 weeks, but gradually loses strength as it ages.
Makes 12 servings (gluten-free recipe)
6 hard-boiled eggs
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 to 4 tablespoons preserved horseradish
¼ teaspoon salt
Something green (mustard sprouts, or a sprig of dill) to garnish
1. Cut the eggs in half lengthwise.
2. Mix the yolks, mayonnaise, 3 tablespoons horseradish and salt with a fork. Use the remaining horseradish to increase the heat if necessary.
3. Using the fork, fill each egg half with the yolk/horseradish mixture. Garnish with something green.
King Arthur Horseradish Crackers
Makes 64 savory crackers
9 ½ ounces (about 2 and ¼ cups) flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
8 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut in pats
4 ounces sour cream
2 ounces preserved horseradish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
¼ cup chopped fresh dill
1. Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Work in the butter until the mixture is coarse and crumbly, using a pastry blender or your hands.
2. Stir in the sour cream, horseradish, chives, and dill, until the mixture is moistened.
3. Turn the shaggy mixture onto a floured work surface, fold it over on itself a few times, and pat the dough into an 8 by 10 inch rectangle.
4. Dust both sides of the dough with flour and, starting with the shorter end, fold it in thirds like a business letter. Turn the dough 90° and roll into an 8 by 10 inch rectangle again. Fold in thirds once more. Wrap and chill the dough for at least 30 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
6. Roll the dough into a 12 by 24 inch rectangle. Cut the dough lengthwise into eight strips, 1 ½ inches wide each. Cut in 3 inch sections to form 64 rectangles. Transfer the pieces to the prepared baking sheets, and fold over one corner of each.
7. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on the pans on a rack.