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Her Outdoors: High on horseradish

Jane Merrick

The other day, while covering the Wythenshawe by-election, I went to visit my friend Kate, who lives in Manchester with her husband Mike and their two sons. I took the traditional bottle of wine as a gift, but also, stuffed in my overnight bag, was a knobbly root of horseradish, freshly yanked out of my allotment soil. When we were students, Kate and I lived together and she is a brilliant cook (one of her many talents is professional chef qualification). The downside of living with someone who is great at cooking (like Him Indoors) is that you get a bit sloppy at doing your bit in the kitchen. The upside is, if you love food like me, you get to enjoy delicious meals.

But my New Year’s resolution was to learn how to cook, particularly with the crops I grow on Plot 35a. When I took over the plot last year, I didn’t spot the little green leaves near the grapevine that were the tell-tale sign of horseradish. It was only, by around August, that the leaves were huge and my Dad, visiting one weekend, told me what it was.

The leaves die back in winter, so you have to remember where the roots are, or else you’re going to be thrashing around in a lot of soil. The root is the edible part, and getting it out can be a bit of a tug of war, especially if you want to take just a small amount and leave the rest to grow for the new season. Here is what I harvested in one day, with the horseradish the big root on the right (and some parsnips that have such skinny legs they could be Tiller Girls).

P1020696 300x225 Her Outdoors: High on horseradish

Mid-winter harvest: parsnips, Brussels sprouts and horseradish

Anyway, I chopped the big horseradish root in half, and turned this into sauce, from a simple recipe using grated horseradish, creme fraiche, salt and pepper and white wine vinegar. Drench the grated horseradish in the vinegar first, to reduce the powerful zoink (it will be strong enough as it is). Some people say you have to grate it outside, wearing goggles and rubber gloves, because it’s so strong, but I did none of this and it was like dealing with a very strong onion – though I did have to step away from the chopping board to give my eyes a rest at one point. Then mix with the other ingredients, testing all the time for taste. It will keep in a sterilised jar for six weeks in the fridge (I sterilise my jam jars by washing and putting in the oven on Gas Mark 1 until the water dries) and is obviously great with beef but also trout.

The other half of the knobbly root was lurking in my fridge for a few days, so when I packed my bag for Manchester I thought this would be perfect to donate to my culinary mate. The great thing about this root is that you can step on it, leave it out in the rain or even take it on a Virgin Train to Manchester and it will grow again if you plant it back in the soil. This is what Kate’s going to do – to start her own kitchen garden supply.

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