Squash Blossoms

Originally published August 17, 2011.

A squash blossom, still on the plantIf any food can be described as ephemeral, it’s squash blossoms. They’re only around for a short while, and once picked they deteriorate rapidly, which is why you usually can’t get them at grocery stores, only farmers’ markets and neighbourhood gardens.

Squash plants actually produce two different types of flowers: male and female.  The male flowers grow on the end of long, slender stems.  The female flowers grow on thicker stems that buldge where they meet the flower.  This bulge is what will eventually become a squash.

Generally there are more male flowers than female.  The male flowers can be picked without affecting the production of fruit, so long as a few are left behind to pollinate the females.  Some sources say to remove the stamens from the interior of the male flowers before eating.  I don’t.  I hope it’s not a safety thing.  Picking the female flowers will prevent fruit from developing on that stem.  Even so, it’s worth picking a few females, especially once the buldge on the stem has grown into a tiny, malformed squash.

The flowers of both summer and winter squash are edible.  (Summer squash are varieties that are picked young, and therefore have tender, edible seeds and skin, like zucchinis and pattypans.  Winter squash are varieties that are mature when picked, and therefore have tough, inedible seeds and skin, like butternut squash and pumpkins.)

While they can be eaten raw, squash blossoms are usually lightly battered and fried.  They can also be stuffed.

Below are some blossoms from a zucchini plant.  The female flowers are distinguished by the tiny zucchinis attached to their bases.  The male flowers have their characteristic long, slender stem in tact.

In the final picture below the blossoms are filled with a homemade cottage cheese (something my ancestors would have called “clabbered milk”) mixed with green onions and a bit of lemon juice.  I used a piping bag to stuff the flowers.

The batter is just skim milk with flour and salt.  The flowers are lightly coated with the batter, then fried in canola oil at 350°F.  You can shallow fry in a straight-sided pan (just add enough oil to come about half way up the side of the flowers) or deep fry in a pot.  Once the batter is crisp and the interior hot, maybe one minute, remove the flowers to a bowl lined with paper towel.  Season and consume immediately.

August on a plate:

Male blossoms, and some female blossoms with the nascent sqash

Squash blossoms, filled with cottage cheese and onions, battered and fried

Horseradish

A large piece of horseradish rootThe gnarly root pictured at left is horseradish.

Horseradish is a hearty plant; it can flourish almost anywhere in our fair city.  I remember when I was in culinary school I would catch a bus at the intersection of 118 Avenue and 106 Street, and there was a perfectly healthy horseradish plant living in a crack in the sidewalk.

Horseradish could in fact be described as invasive.  It doesn’t spread too fast, but once it’s established, it’s nearly impossible to remove.  I hack enormous chunks out of the root system of my plant and it always recovers.

The root has a pungent flavour very similar flavour to its relatives mustard and wasabi.  (Actually most of the “wasabi” that you’ve eaten with your sushi is actually just horseradish powder dyed green.[1])  It can be finely grated and eaten raw for delicious, mustardy pangs of flavour.  I first saw this way of serving horseradish in Austria, where they grate fresh horseradish into a snowy heap to accompany boiled beef and cured pork.  Before that I was only familiar with prepared horseradish, which is grated horseradish that has been treated with vinegar and jarred.

Horseradish, like mustard, only develops its hot pungency once its cell walls are ruptured by grating or crushing, at which time an enzyme liberates the irritant molecule.    Acid slows the enzymes and to a certain extent and “sets” the pungency, so the longer you wait to add vinegar after grating horseradish, the hotter your preparation will be.

I mix roughly one part each of grated horseradish and cider vinegar by weight, then add a bit of salt and white sugar.  This mixture stores well in the fridge, though it will slowly discolour and turn grey without the addition of preservatives.

Some homemade prepared horseradish

As an aside, the leaves of the horseradish plant are also delicious.  They have the same sharp flavour as the root.  They are best enjoyed in spring, as they get tough and fibrous later in the year.

Horseradish greens

 

Sources

1. This according to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking.  Page 417 of the first Scribner revised edition 2004.

Radish Pods

I have to admit that this summer came with many, many gardening disasters.  “Gardening lessons” maybe is a better way to think of it.  There were, for instance, some hard lessons in soil fertility.

Last summer we got some trees cut down and we were left with a staggering amount of mulch, mulch that I slowly and laboriously transferred to our many garden beds.  At the time I thought that since I was adding organic matter to the beds I was improving the soil.  I planted chard, onion, kale, spinach, and potatoes in those beds, but only the potatoes became proper plants, and even then they produced small, scant tubers.

It turns out by adding all that mulch I built unhealthy beds that are too rich in carbon.  I now understand that that huge dose of carbon needs to be balanced by nitrogen, and I am currently adding as much nitrogen-rich compost as I can to amend the beds and get them ready for next year.

That was the biggest lesson of this summer, for sure.

Some other odd things happened in the yard, though.  We seeded radishes in a planter by the house, and in a few weeks they had shot up almost two feet and formed beautiful, four-petaled flowers blushing pink and violet.  I was familiar with the short, friendly bunches of leaves that radishes usually form, so I knew something was amiss.  I started wondering if the seeds we had planted were even truly radish seeds.  I tasted the flowers and found that they did have a mild radish flavour.  Still not convinced I periodically pulled up one of the plants to find a stunted radish the size of a dime beneath the soil.  Once the delicate flowers withered things got really crazy.  Pods shaped like rifle shells appeared up and down the length of the shoots.  They stood upright, which made them look particularly menacing.

Anyone who has gardened before knows that I am describing a “bolting” radish. We planted the radishes too late in the season, and the long, hot days made the plant go to seed instead of developing a root.  Live and learn.

The fortunate part of this mistake is that the pods formed by a bolting radish are actually delicious.  They taste just like radish root – possibly even hotter on the tongue than the roots would have been – but have the texture of a snap pea.  Most welcome in salads and pickle jars.

A fistful of delicious radish pods.

Plants!

For the last two or three years Button Soup has been largely about animals. Pigs, especially.  It must seem that I eat pork chops and sausages every night.  In reality I don’t consider myself a voracious meat-eater.

That being said, I do find animals pretty easy to understand.  They really are all the same: cows, chickens, pigs, and aardvarks.  All mother-animals and father-animals reproduce more or less the same way, a way very familiar to us humans.  The baby-animals eat food and grow up and reproduce similarly, and if you cut their throat they die and you can eat them.  I know there are exceptions to some of these statements, but really animals are easy.

A zucchini plant, complete with freaky alien-like tentaclesPlants are very different creatures.  Just look at the zucchini plant at left, with its freaky, alien tentacles.

While I can say succinctly that all animals reproduce by sexual intercourse, in which the male of the species fertilizes the female’s egg, this can certainly not be said of plants.  Until recently I assumed that plants were more or less the same as animals: a male plant (whatever that means) does something inappropriate to a female plant, then something about flowers and fruits and ultimately seeds.  Then I started wondering why I had never seen a potato seed, or a rhubarb seed.  I started wondering what the “fruit” of the elm tree looks like, and where it was exactly.  There seems to be several ways by which plants reproduce: of course by seed, but also by suckers, tubers, cuttings, graftings, and sometimes just by falling over (strawberries…).  Still others are “self-fertile”.

Another way that plants have confounded me is in their resiliency: some seem to be more or less invincible.  I can destroy ninety percent of the mass of a dandelion in my front yard, and it will grow back.  Certainly there is no animal for which we can say the same.

As I now live on a proper city lot I am just, just starting to explore the plant kingdom as a gardener and cook.  And just as the only way to understand meat is to buy (or raise…) a whole animal, cut it up, and cook every bit of it,  I assume that the only way to really understand plants is to start growing them.  Thankfully Lisa and I have lots of room to do that.

I live in the city, and I don’t hunt, so my relationship with meat will probably always be by way of farmers and abattoir-workers.  I’m okay with that.  My relationship to plants will be much more intimate.  So far it has involved changing the face of our yard one heavy shovelful at a time, and I have certainly exerted more labour in the last three years producing our paltry array of vegetables than I have in the last ten years procuring our meat.

Let me tell you about the first three years that we have lived in this yard, and its slow-but-steady transformation into a garden.

 

Year 0: Observation

Through the first summer in our new home, we basically let the yard do what it pleased.  We cut the grass, but otherwise every plant was left to sucker and shoot and bloom as it wished.  This was done partly because we were travelling in Europe for a couple months, but also so that we could see exactly what lived in our yard.  We had some clues, of course – fetid crabapples littering the yard, conspicuous raspberry canes – but otherwise we had no knowledge of the plants we had moved in with.

Findings from Year 0

Plants need help.  Very early in the spring it became apparent that there were lots of edible plants in our yard: two apple trees, a cherry bush, dozens of raspberry canes, strawberries, horseradish, rhubarb, currants both red and black, juniper, thyme, mint, and oregano.  As soon as the leaves revealed the identity of an established edible, I naively envisioned an Eden-like harvest later in the summer.  In reality the only plants that produced as I had expected were the raspberries.  The apple trees fruited, but made small, tart green apples.  We had one branch of sour cherries which were easily consumed in one evening.  The currants were by far the most disappointing.  I had recently eaten my first authentic Linzertorte, which is bright red currant jam sandwiched by buttery cake.  With no less than five currant bushes, I had looked forward to a month of eating the Austrian specialty.  That summer I harvested exactly ten currants.

There were several reasons for the poor performance, ranging from pollination to pruning to the age of the plants, but the large, overriding problem in the yard was a lack of light.  Plants had gone unpruned for years.  They were overgrown, and adjacent branches were strangling and shadowing each other.  Even if all the edible trees and shrubs had been well kept, there were several, towering trees along the yard’s perimeter acting as an effective canopy.  Morning light was blocked by a maple on our eastern fence, and a veritable forest extending into neighbour’s yards.  On the southern and western borders were elms, maples, and lilacs that had been unchecked for years.

We kind of like some ornamentals.  When we first considered the future of our backyard we asked with a good deal of self-righteousness: “Why would anyone ever plant something that is not edible?”  After a season of watching tulips and lilacs and lillies and forget-me-nots and hollyhocks bloom, we realized that we actually love having ornamental flowers around.

Identifying plants is hard.  After Year 0 there were still a handful of Rumpelstiltskin plants that we couldn’t put a name to.  Thankfully most of them would give up their secrets in the years to come, but only after we made some serious efforts to let them flourish.

 

Year 1: Clearing the Land

Removing Untenable Trees and Shrubs.  Some of the large trees obviously needed to go.  The maple and elm on the southern border were growing into the foundation of the garage, and would certainly destroy the concrete in years ahead.  Other trees were harder to part with.  There was a large ornamental crabapple in the centre of the yard with a disctinct “Y” formation.  In May it bloomed for about one week: large flowers starting brilliant fuscha, then fading to a stately mauve.  It really was a beautiful tree, and we debated for some weeks whether it should be removed to allow more light into the northern section of the backyard.  In late March the decision was made for us when a brisk, wet snowfall came.  The precipitation was without exaggeration the wettest, densest snow I’ve ever had the misfortune of clearing from my walks.  Lifting one shovelful was like carrying a bucket of water.  The weight of the snow and the quickness of its descent strained our crabapple to the point that one of the arms of the “Y” broke and fell into the yard.  The exposed interior wood was rotting, so the entire tree had to come down.

These tall, established trees are a large part of the charm of the “older” neighbourhoods in Edmonton like the Garneau and McKernan.  When I told a neighbour of our plans to remove some of them he said plainly that it was shame, and the implication was that we were compromising the character of the neighbourhood.

I have more than my share of appreciation for the old, elegant trees in my area.  The avenues in the Garneau are lined by elms that reach over the road and meet to form a distinct, gothic arch.  But frankly short-sighted and lazy home-owners let trees run amok, and I find it deeply hypocritical to scorn untrimmed lawns or unraked leaves but then leave maple suckers unchecked for years until they grow down into the foundations of homes and up into the eaves.

Anyways.

Because of a beard and a penchant for plaid clothing, I have at numerous times in the past few years been described as a lumberjack.  The summer of Year 1 saw me act the part.  While the removal of the large trees was contracted to a professional arborist, the pruning or destruction of the many overgrown shrubs was left to me.  Most egregious were four lilacs, one of which had numerous trunks between four and six inches across.  In their desperate search for light, all four were about twenty feet tall, reaching into power lines and over garage roofs and neighbours’ yards.

Sheet Mulching Weeds and Grass.  Besides the removal of the overgrowth taking light from the yard, large swaths of weeds and tall grasses had to be converted to garden beds.    There were the familiar dandelions and ox-eyed daisies and creeping bell-flowers that appear in most yards, but there were also a surprising number of deliberately planted but extremely invasive species, notably delphinia and lilies of the valley.  The conversion was accomplished largely by sheet mulching.  The process is a simple one, but effective.  First the existing growth is hacked as close to the ground as possible.  Then the ground is covered in layers of nitrogen-rich green compost and carbon-rich brown compost.  Then a layer of cardboard is put down, which will kill existing weeds by depriving them of light.  More compost layers are set out, and finally mulch.  The area is watered liberally, and over time the sod and weeds and cardboard will break down and you will have a healthy garden bed the following season.

Compost. To bolster the production of quality soil I also started bringing home scraps from work: potato skins, carrots peelings, outer cabbage leaves, tomato vines, and so on.  Restaurant trim is an enormous, untapped source of compostable material.  The exact amount varies from day to day, but I continue to take at least five pounds home every evening. Some times it’s closer to twenty.  More enlightened parts of the world already offer compost collection as a civic service (much of Europe, for example, and Spruce Grove…).

What is the opposite of a blank slate, proverbially?  To landscape a backyard in a new subdivision is to start with a blank slate.  The task is easy, as you don’t have to worry about removing existing plants.

We started with whatever is the opposite of a blank slate, which meant a lot of work.  But interestingly the shear amount of organic material in our yard (lawn clippings, weeds, twigs and branches and trunks, dead leaves, pine needles, and the several cubic yards of mulch left behind by the tree removal) will hopefully build a garden with good soil without us having to buy much in the way of topsoil or peat moss or sand or fertilizer.  Likewise we didn’t have to fill garbage bags with grass and leaves for pick-up.  In many ways the wild overgrowth in our yard will be feeding us for many years, in the soil that we are building, and the firewood that is now stacked in and around our garage.

 

Year 2

While we are still working on taking back the land from lawn and forest, this is our first year of serious planting.  I will discuss the specific fruits and vegetables that we planted in individual posts.  They include cherries, haskaps, currants, potatoes, asparagus, beans, and many others.  Stay tuned.  Briefly, here are some of the observations from the gardening year so far.

Findings from Year 2

Gardening is effing hard.  It is both back-breaking and finnicky.  We are in a constant battle to keep weeds (especially dandelion, elm, maple, and bellflower) from encroaching on garden beds.  Even after sheet mulching many of our beds, being composed of clay, are still not hospitable to vegetables, and will need further amending.

Birds are a bit bothersome.  Another charming part of older neighbourhoods with big trees is the number of birds and small animals that live in close quarters with us humans.  We regularly see robins, sparrows, blue jays, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and of course magpies in our yard.  We also get woken up by tidings of magpies, and have to put up with their eternal, cacophonous struggle against the robins.  Birds end up eating a lot of our fruit, especially haskaps and cherries.  We’re going to invest in some netting.

 

Much, much more plant news on the way.  Happy gardening.

Haskaps

This is one of those “probably more than you wanted to know about…” posts, but when one plant has a hundred names, I’m always curious for an explanation.

Near-ripe Blue Belle haskapsA cold-hardy bush that produces delicious, anti-oxidant-rich berries of striking colour and interesting shapes as early as June, the haskap has captured the attention of a diverse group of obsessives: gardeners, nutritionists, chefs, and linguists, to name a few.

Haskaps are native to several far flung regions in the northern hemisphere, and most often found in or near bogs in boreal forests. They go by a dizzying number of names, some of which are described below.  For clarity’s sake, the plant we are discussing is Lonicera caerulea.  There are four notable regions to which the plant is native, each with distinctive varieties and nomenclature.

Russia, where it goes by the name blue honeysuckle.  The fruit of Russian varieties tends to ripen into long, thin, tart berries very early in the summer.

Japan, where the name is transliterated as haskap.  Round, well-balanced fruit ripens in late summer.

The Kuril Islands, a volcanic archipelago stretching between northern Japan and the Kamchatka peninsula of Russia.  These islands are under Russian administration, though Japan lays claim to some of the southernmost islands.  The Kurils are notable because they are home to a unique variety of haskap that produce large berries very late in the season.

Canada.  L. caerulea can be found wild in every province except BC.  Our plants produce very small berries with unremarkable flavour, and go by a number of appetizing local names including swamp fly honeysuckle and mountain fly honeysuckle.  Originally Canadian botanists classified these plants as L. villosa, believing it to be a unique species of honeysuckle.  Recently it was discovered or decided that the Canadian plants are a variety of L. caerulea, so they are now classified as L. caerulea var. (or sometimes ssp.) villosa.

 

Haskaps in North America

The Beaverlodge “Sweetberry Honeysuckle”.  The most notable contribution the native Canadian varieties of L. caerulea made was a shrub bred by Alberta’s Northern Agricultural Research Station, the Beaverlodge, in the 1950s. They developed two varieties of what they called sweetberry honeysuckle: the George Bugnet and the Marie Bugnet.  These were intended as ornamental shrubs, even though the name strongly suggests edibility.  They were used as low-maintenance hedges across North America and are still common in some cities.

Jim Gilbert “Honeyberry”.  Much of the modern intensive breeding of haskaps in North American is thanks to Jim Gilbert of One Green World Nursery/Northwoods Nursery (why does this company have two names?) in Oregon.  [Editor’s Note: see the comments section below for the answer to the two-name-question…]  He made several trips to Russia and brought back the best varieties of their edible blue honeysuckle.

Back in America Gilbert branded the plants as honeyberries.  He also renamed and trademarked all of the distinct varieties with friendly English names.  Tomichka, for instance, became Blue Belle, and Chek#7 became Berry Blue.  He promoted the plants aggressively, hoping that greenhouses would adopt his names and pay him royalties.  Several nurseries ended up taking his plants and simply renaming them to skirt payment.  A confusing array of varietal names proliferated, most involving the words “honey” or “blue”.

From 1997 to 2003 the University of Saskatchewan tested some of Gilbert’s honeyberry varieties, and concluded that Blue Belle produced the best fruit, and the Berry Blue was its best pollinator.

University of Saskatchewan “Haskap”.  After testing Gilbert’s plants, the U of SK Fruit Program became very interested in L. caerulea because of its hardiness and high yields of delicious fruit.  The U of SK decided to adopt the term haskap instead of honeyberry because their plants most resemble the native Japanese varieties.  I use the term haskap most frequently, too, though I think it would be fun to serve the fruit in a restaurant as swamp fly honeysuckle…

In 2007 the U of SK released the Borealis and Tundra haskaps, which were hybrids of the Tomichka (Russian) and Kiev#7 (Kuril) varieties.  They also released a closely-related “Indigo Series” with ridiculous names like Indigo Yum.  They recently released the Honeybee variety as a good pollinator for all of the above.

The U of SK is currently interbreeding all four types of haskap (Russian, Japanese, Kuril, and Canadian) and selecting for eating quality, blooming and ripening time, and ease of mechanical harvest.

 

Growing Haskaps

Haskap flowersLast fall we planted two haskap bushes in our backyard: one Berry Blue, one Blue Belle.  Haskaps require pollinators.  In other words, there has to be another variety of the same species that flowers at the same time planted nearby for the bushes to produce fruit.

The first spring our haskaps were quick off the starting line, shooting out their spindly yellowish flowers while most other plants were struggling to produce leaves.

By late May there were small, green berries, and by early June some had enlarged and turned blue or indigo.

By mid to late June the season is in full swing, and we we expecting to harvest a couple pounds of deep blue berries.  Unfortunately rapacious birds beat us to the fruit, and we gathered only a meager handful.

The following year we invested in some netting to protect the fruit.

The most common description of the flavour is “somewhere between blueberry and raspberry,” which just makes me think of all of those “blue raspberry” candies and sport drinks.  Personally the flavour doesn’t remind me of a blueberry at all: I think that’s just the power of visual suggestion.  The berries are tart, and very subtly bitter.  They’re great out of hand.

A bowl of hasps

 

Sources

This post is based largely on an article in The 2012 Prairie Garden called “Haskaps and Blue Honeysuckles: Types and Varieties” by Dr. Bob Bors, as well as information from the U of SK Fruit Program website.

Pruning Raspberries

I’m writing about this because I know next to nothing about plants, or how they germinate and grow and proliferate.  Really.  Almost nothing.  This week I learned a few simple guidelines for maintaining raspberry bushes that made a mark on my neophyte mind.

When we moved into our house about a year ago we inherited no less than three raspberry stands.  I’m not sure of the variety, but based on descriptions I’ve read I would guess they are Boyne raspberries.

Raspberries grow on stalks called canes.  Over the winter I often pondered the canes standing in my backyard.  Were they dead?  Dormant?  Would they produce fruit next year?  Did I need to do anything to care for them?

Whatever the variety of my raspberries, they are definitely floricanes.  This means that they produce fruit only on the canes that grew last year.  In other words, a cane grew from the ground last summer, went dormant over the winter, and will produce fruit this year.  Hopefully, while that cane is producing fruit this year, another cane will be growing right beside it that will be able to fruit next summer.  After a floricane stalk produces fruit it dies with the frost.

The old leaves and receptacle from last year's raspberries

I can tell my berries are floricanes because the canes that produced fruit last year are now dead.  To identify last year’s fruiting canes, I look for the star-shaped leaves and withered receptacles where the raspberries once were (blurry photo at left).  Last year’s fruiting canes also have a pale, parched colour and no leaves, while this year’s fruiting canes are a bit more brown and roan coloured, and at this time of year are producing leaves.

I believe you can avoid the entire ordeal of figuring out which canes are dead and which are live by pruning right after the plants produce fruit in late summer.  However, the Alberta Agriculture website says that it is beneficial to leave the dead canes standing over the winter as they protect the dormant canes, like a snow fence.  I’m sure it doesn’t matter either way.

The crown of a raspberry plants, with the pruned canes of year's past

Once I’ve identified a dead cane, I follow it to the ground.  Since this is an old raspberry patch, there’s a small conglomerate of cane stumps where almost a decade’s worth of fruiting canes were cut off.  This is called the crown of the plant.  Sure enough there is always another cane extending from the crown, a cane that grew last year, and will therefore fruit this year.

Besides removing the dead canes at the crown, I also cut back a few of the live canes that seemed to have dead tips, and staked up a couple particularly floppy ones.

In addition to floricanes there are primocane raspberries, sometimes called everbearing raspberries.  Everbearing raspberries produce fruit on canes that have grown that same year, but only on the very tip of the cane.  The plants go dormant over the winter, and the following spring they fruit again, this time lower down the cane.  Though primocanes were designed to lengthen the harvest period in this manner, fruit yield is actually higher if you prune the canes down after harvesting the first fruit from the tip of the cane.

That’s everything that I know about growing raspberries.  I’m much more adept at eating, fermenting, and drinking them.  More on that later in the year.

 

Pruning Raspberries: Review Questions

  1. What do we call the stalks on which raspberries grow?
  2. What is the crown of the raspberry plant?  Where is it located?
  3. What are the differences between floricane and primocane raspberries?
  4. (Bonus Question) What is the German word for “raspberry”?  What does it mean, and why do you suppose the plant was given this name?  The answer is buried in this post.

Perennials Bequeathed

In January, Lisa and I bought a house in McKernan.  The backyard was a gift that spring has recently unwrapped for us.  Over the last couple weeks we’ve discovered that the previous owners of this house were active gardeners who established a mass of edible perennials.

Following are the edible plants that are appearing in our yard.  If you think we’ve misidentified anything, please let me know.  (We’re new at this…)

Strawberries

Apples

Horseradish

Juniper (with mature berries)
Raspberries (lots of raspberries…)
Rhubarb
Cherries?

Currants?

Horseradish Liberation Front (HLF)

Part I: Horseradish as Weed

Horseradish is a common weed in Edmonton, as invasive as it is delicious. The plant is pretty easy to identify by its distinctive curly leaves. If allowed to flourish, they eventually grow into wild, drooping masses that look like Sideshow Bob’s hair. There happens to be a particularly robust example in a friend’s back alley. I visited it this morning to see if my clumsy attempt at harvesting it last summer had killed it.As you can see, it’s doing fine. You can also see all the dead stalks from last year’s growth around the base. It’s a very prodigious plant.

A horseradish plant, in springLast summer I was invited to help myself to the spicy root of the above plant. I had no idea what I was doing, but in August I cut away some of the growth, dug through the hard gravel, and hacked a few good chunks of root out. I used some, grated and mixed with vinegar, on barbequed steak that night. The rest I left in large pieces and froze. The taste was unmistakably horseradish, but with a fairly pronounced, bitter, woody taste. There is heat, but the mustard-flavour is pushed into the background by the woody taste.

Part II: How to Cultivate Horseradish

Since that first taste of semi-wild horseradish last summer I have done a little research.

Usually the root is harvested in the fall, after the first frost has killed off all the leaves. This is done for a few reasons: it makes harvesting easier, because you don’t have to hack through the fresh stalks and leaves to get to the root; it maximizes the growing season and therefore the size of the root; and apparently the frost helps develop a more pungent flavour.

Ideally the entire root is pulled up every year, and then one of the small offshoots is replanted. Apparently older roots tend to taste woody, which explains my experience last summer. Unfortunately, the above-mentioned plant is so well-established it would take an excavation crew of twenty men to pull up the entire root and replant.


Part III: Liberating Wild Horseradish


A horseradish plant in the middle of a patch of city-owned grass.Later this morning, I stumbled across another, smaller horseradish plant, growing on a city-owned patch of lawn, just a few feet from the sidewalk.

I considered the Sisyphean life-cycle of this plant: grow, get mowed by city worker, grow, get mowed, et c.

I decided I would liberate this horseradish. I dug it up and replanted it in an inconspicuous location close to my house so that I can harvest it properly every year. (You may think that changing its naturally-occurring, semi-wild state to one of strict cultivation is the opposite of “liberating”. Let’s say I liberated it from neglect. And lawnmowers.)

The root was much, much longer than I expected. As I was digging on public property, and worried I was drawing attention, I rushed the job and accidentally snapped the root, leaving a few inches in the soil. It seems that to pull up even a modest horseradish root, you have to be prepared to dig a hole a foot wide and a foot deep. At this point my re-located horseradish is looking a little sickly. I gave it fresh soil and water. Hopefully it will pull through to garnish my steaks.