If you like horseradish - I mean really like horseradish - then everything that is remotely edible is fair game. For instance, with apple pie, and that's not apocryphal. At the annual horseradish festival in Collinsville, Illinois, horseradish is revered with the kind of passion one usually associates with baseball in the "glory days" at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field. The farmland around Collinsville produces ten million pounds of horseradish a year, and has been appropriately named by the town's promoters as the "horseradish capital of the world."
For centuries this member of the mustard family has cried out for recognition, its pungency preventing it from achieving culinary status. Armoracia rusticana, with its white flowers and broad leaves, is a native of middle Europe and western Asia. How it got its name remains a question. Some surmise that it was an English adaptation of the German name "meeretich" or sea radish. The "meer" sounding like "mare" in English, eventually evolving into horse - radish. It is believed that the first literary reference to this pungent root was in 1597 by English botanist John Gerard when he said "Horse radish bringeth forth great leaves." But aside from an occasional mention of an ale flavored with horseradish, it seems this flavorful root was seldom used for anything but medicinal purposes until the 19th century. Grated horseradish root mixed with water was popular as a pain-relieving compress. Taken internally, it was believed to be a diuretic.
By 1832 horseradish was branching out into the culinary arena. The Cook's Own Book, published in 1832, suggested that a cook dry and pound horseradish into a powder to preserve it for the winter and in her Book of Household Management published in 1861, Isabella Beeton suggests that "a stick of horseradish" not be forgotten for a picnic. One wonders how it was to be consumed - now there's a vision.
Today, although many continue to shy away from this powerful root, horseradish is increasingly being used to give variety and zest to a variety of sauces. Freshly grated is always preferable to the bottled variety but in both cases the most flavorful product is white in color. A jar of dark horseradish left in the refrigerator door has lost its purpose. Kept wrapped and refrigerated in a plastic bag, the root will stay fresh for several weeks. A word of warning, however; use a food processor or blender for grating. The fumes of its chief component, mustard gas, are intense. Peel and cut the horseradish into small cubes. Chop them with enough iced water to make a paste. Because vinegar curtails the potency of the flavor, it is best not to add it until after you have completed grating the root. Then, a sprinkle of salt, sugar, and a dash of white wine, rice, or distilled vinegar will give the final touch.
To use prepared horseradish, fresh or bottled, as a seasoning, drain the liquid off first. It can be mixed with butter and served on steak or hamburger, added to sour cream with herbs to make a dip or a sauce for broccoli, mixed with mustard and finely chopped garlic to serve with ham or corned beef, and finally, stirred into ketchup to make the ubiquitous cocktail sauce.