As the crow flies, it is 990 miles from my house to the Horseradish Capital of the World.
Collinsville, Illinois, struts its stuff every July at the International Horseradish Festival, when more than 15,000 devotees come out to celebrate a root that's also known as stingnose.
A root that makes your eyes water, your nose twitch, your tongue numb, your fingers wrinkle, and your ears burn.
A root used to treat headaches, respiratory distress and rheumatism.
More than 80 percent of the world's supply of horseradish grows in southern Illinois, and of that, the majority comes from Collinsville.
The horseradish root, a member of the mustard family, looks like a parsnip on steroids, and it's just as mild as a parsnip until you grate it. Then the isothiocyanates, volatile oils that contain the stinging hot flavor, are released, and the reaction gets stronger and stronger until vinegar is added to stop the action and stabilize the bite. The amount of time between grating/grinding the root and the addition of vinegar determines the heat level of prepared horseradish.
While horseradish is cultivated primarily for its root, the rest of the plant is also edible. But it's invasive, which is why, despite having a large herb garden, I like my horseradish from a jar, the way people have been buying it since 1860.
So get yourself to Collinsville in July, for the Horseradish Derby, horseradish toss (The record? 80.5 feet!), horseradish golf, the crowning of Little Miss Horseradish, and, best of all, the Bloody Mary contest.
And, if you're very lucky, you might find some horseradish meatloaf, cole slaw, smashed potatoes, short ribs, soup, hummus, aioli, and horseradish mayo that's great on crab cakes and roast beef sandwiches.
Now that sounds like a party.
Tart zucchini relish
Adapted from Fondue, by Marlisa Szwillus, this tart relish makes a nice counterpoint to something rich and creamy, like fondue, or mac-and-cheese. Marinates overnight, so leave extra time for this recipe. Serves 4-6.
18 oz zucchini
1 tart apple
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 bay leaf
1 tsp peppercorns
2 cloves garlic
2/3 cup herb or white wine vinegar
2 tsp prepared horseradish
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
The night before serving, trim and wash the zucchini. Peel the shallots. Finely dice zucchini and shallots. Peel and core the apple, and dice. In a bowl mix the zucchini, shallots and apple with the sugar, salt and sherry. Cover and marinate overnight.
The next day, pour the mixture into a colander, collecting the liquid in a wide saucepan. Add the bay leaf and slightly crushed peppercorns. Peel and mince the garlic, and add it to the pan. Boil the mixture uncovered over high heat until it is reduced by half. Add the vinegar and fruit and vegetable pieces to the pan. Simmer, uncovered, over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaf. Stir in the horseradish and let the mixture cool. Just before serving, stir in the oil and parsley.
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