By David Kittredge
The Sunday before Thanksgiving I decided to harvest some of the horseradish root growing on my place. Luckily, I was not late in harvesting the root because I have just learned that the ideal time to harvest is two weeks after a hard frost. The two week period gives the plant time to return nutrients that were formally stored in the plant’s large leaves, which have now wilted and died due to the hard frost, back into the roots for the ultimate potency. I was fortunate to happen upon a YouTube video from the somethingedible.com site where the steps of proper harvesting and preparation of the pungent root are mapped out in detail and accurately to obtain the most intense, sinus clearing experience possible.
I decide to have some background music while I prepare the horseradish root and somewhere among my little gray cells a flare is lit. I decide on Rachmaninoff, log onto the YouTube channel and page him. I choose his piano Concerto No. 2 featuring Anna Fedorova at the piano. After introduction, the pianist sits, in moment of reflection pensively eyeing the instrument’s keyboard to steel herself for the skirmish to come. She begins. I return to the kitchen and add 12 ounces horseradish root to the food processor, but as I reach for the pulse button on the machine, I too pause briefly, ruminating on the impending pain and the ecstasy to come. Finally resolute and steeled, I repeated press the pulse button, the blade mangling the once elongated witchy fingered roots with staccato bursts. The initial mincing is finished.
I go again to the television in the living room to see Fedorova’s fingers dancing across the piano keys like miniature Russian Cossacks jauntily kicking their knee high jackboots in pained merriment. Back in the kitchen, I pull the feed tube pusher from the food processor and receive only a faint whiff of horseradish, warning me of the of the impending tempest to come, as one might detect the scent of ozone that occurs before a mid-summer thunderstorm.
I add a cup of water to the mixing bowl which will release the powerful chemicals hidden in the chopped root along with a teaspoon of salt for seasoning. I start the machine for the three minute interlude as the blade pulverizes the chopped root into a fine paste. I return to watch the pianist, her lithe fingers gently traipsing the keys, catlike until she pauses lifts her arm, her right hand hovering two feet in the air, only to lunge in for the ambush, both hands beautifully ravishing the keyboard. The muscles in Fedorova’s arms and back ripple with the intensity of a ravenous attacking predator as she plays with turbulent Rachmaninoff vigor.
My three minutes of solitude are over, I must stop the machine, open the lid and quickly add the vinegar to lock in the potency of the horseradish. When doing so, I realize that I haven’t been fast enough as a burst of sinus rocking vapor has been released from the vat, causing my breath to halt, my eyes to flood with protecting tears, while leaving my nostrils scorched. I am momentarily staggered, as I flail blindly away from the object of my pain. As I retreat, I say aloud eagerly, “Oh, this is going to be a good batch,” while returning to the safety of the living room.
As the pianist reaches the end of a musical stanza, her arm is wrenched from the keyboard as if her fingers have touched hot coals, her arm flails across her body in recoil from right to left as if swiping a saber at an unseen foe. She then pauses, and begins to play in a staccato manner, determined, adamant, obstinate.
I return obdurate, perhaps better stated, pigheaded, to the scene of my battle, the air momentarily cleared of the caustic vapors, to again press the processor’s start key for the final minute of mixing to stabilize the root’s pungency with the vinegar preservative.
The Rachmaninoff concerto continues as the pianist plays an interlude stricken with grief and angst in a dream like state, which evolves into a chest heaving nightmare as the musical storm intensifies, perhaps hearkening to a great love affair, headed toward a forlorn tragedy with the ultimate realization that your lover still lives as you hasten toward their side, relieved.
The final processing minute is up, I must now enter the lair of the beast, unleashing the full fury of its strength upon the world, temporarily, as I wrestle it into bottles. I hold my breath and squint in a feeble attempt to avoid the ravages of the now fully mature raptor as it rakes its claws into my lungs and across my eyes.
The concoction finally tamed and sealed into containers; I realize that I still haven’t actually tasted the processed root. I ready a spoon, unscrew a cover hastily dip into the condiment, quickly return the lid and taste the teaspoon of horseradish. I recognize my success, as I pound my fist on the countertop doubled over with mind searing pain while my sinuses are cleared of all obstructions.
I can’t wait to offer some to my horseradish loving friends to watch their initial reactions during their first encounter. Mind you, this is not table fare for the feint of heart or a horseradish tenderfoot.