Our resident gardening and food writer Hans Wieland shares the secrets of horseradishes in this extract from our Summer 2018 issue.
Horseradish, a Vegetable to Cry For
Growing vegetables that make a difference
By Hans Wieland
I have been living with horseradish all my life – in fact, even before my life, as the wedding dish of my parents was beef in horseradish cream sauce with potatoes, considered a poor man’s dish in the 50s, but with an outstanding flavour, as my late mum claimed.
Horseradish is a hardy root crop, an often neglected group of nutritious vegetables, which are most useful during the winter months. In German, it’s called “Meerrettich” (sea radish) because it grows best by the sea. Many believe the English mispronounced the German word “Meer” and began calling it “mareradish.” Eventually it became known as horseradish. In my humble view, horseradish is one of those plants that can transform dishes.
How to grow horseradish…
My parents did not live by the sea. They grew their horseradish beside the compost heap, probably with no other intention than to give it enough space. The main culinary use at home was for sauces, to be grated and mixed with freshly made quark, and also as a source of Vitamin C in my mum’s winter tonic of horseradish, onions and garlic.
Horseradish is a vigorous perennial plant from the Cabbage family (brassica), which also includes mustard, wasabi and broccoli. It can grow up to one metre tall and develops long stout roots. As a root vegetable, it is cultivated primarily for its large, white, tapered root, and also used as a spice. The plant is probably native to south eastern Europe and western Asia, but has a place in most Middle European gardens.
It grows better roots for harvesting if given its own space and attention. A rich fertile soil would be great. Being a deep root crop, it needs depth to grow, so a hard subsoil won’t be to its liking. But in the wide area between these extremes, which is pretty much any healthy garden soil, it will give you a good crop with very little effort.
We grow horseradish at Neantóg in true family tradition, beside our compost heap where its spreading habit doesn’t become a problem. In a herb garden, it can be grown in a big and deep container: a half barrel, for example. It’s a large-leafed, tall perennial plant, so make sure it won’t be overpowering a more delicate neighbour.
Horseradish is best grown from a root cutting – similar to comfrey – or start with a potted plant from a good garden centre. In year one, I recommend growing it in a big, tall pot to boost growth without harvesting. In year two it can be planted in its final position.
After the first frost in autumn kills the leaves, the root can be dug and divided. The main root is harvested and one or more large offshoots of the main root are replanted to produce next year’s crop. Horseradish left undisturbed in the garden spreads via underground shoots and can become invasive. Older roots left in the ground become woody, after which they are no longer culinarily useful, though older plants can be dug and re-divided to start new plants. The early season leaves can be distinctively different: asymmetric and spiky, before the mature typical flat broad leaves start to be developed.
The culinary use of horseradish
The intact horseradish root has hardly any aroma, but when cut or grated, enzymes from the now broken plant cells break down the sugars to produce mustard oil, which can irritate the mucous membranes of the sinuses and eyes. Once exposed to air or heat, it will begin to lose its pungency, darken in colour, and become unpleasantly bitter tasting over time.
The mustard oil (allyl isothiocyanate) serves the plant as a natural defence against herbivores. When an animal chews the plant, the mustard oil is released, repelling the animal. The health benefits of horseradish are manifold: a very high Vitamin C content, antibiotic properties and beneficial for blood circulation. Homemade remedies are more potent than bought ones. Chefs often use the grated root of the horseradish plant mixed with vinegar, which they call “prepared horseradish”. Preserved like that, it can be stored for months under refrigeration, but eventually it will darken, indicating it is losing flavour and should be replaced. The leaves of the plant or “horseradish greens” – while edible – are not commonly eaten, because of their very strong flavour.
The preferred use of horseradish in the Wieland household, besides being an ingredient in Gaby’s master tonic, is mixing it with quark, soft cheeses or ricotta. Here is a very simple recipe:
500g of fresh quark or soft cheese
3-4 tablespoons of freshly grated horseradish
1 apple grated, lemon juice, salt and pepper to season
Hans Wieland worked and taught at the Organic Centre for over 20 years before ‘retiring’ to Neantóg Kitchen Garden School in Cliffoney this May, along with his wife Gaby Wieland, herbalist and naturopath. The couple offer a range of courses and workshops in food growing, fermenting, foraging, cheese making, healthy cooking and baking.
Spring is slowly making its presence felt, but winter is not ready to surrender its icy grip just yet. Luckily, our resident gardening expert Hans Wieland is on hand to tell us all about the heat-promoting properties of chillies: a perfect remedy for the cold temperatures outside. Here is a sneak peek of his article from our new Spring issue. Find a copy in your local stockist today, or subscribe to receive one straight to your door.
By Hans Wieland
Chilli Peppers, Bell Peppers, Hot Peppers, Sweet Peppers, Cayenne Peppers, Spanish Peppers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, what have they all in common? Confused?
Okay, the last “variety” – the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a funk-rock band from Los Angeles – is only around since 1983, and all the others have nothing in common with black pepper (Piper nigrum), but are in fact all species of the genus Capsicum. Commonly we distinguish between the sweet and mild peppers and the hot and more pungent chillies, the topic of our article. Most of our common chillies come from one species, Capsicum annum, which was first cultivated in Mexico at least 5000 years ago.
The cult story of chillies begins with Columbus, who thought he found the (black) pepper and continues with the colonial trading power of the Portuguese bringing the chilli everywhere, leading to India becoming the biggest producer. The Aztec word of the native Nahuatl was chilli, which means red. Botanically speaking all peppers are fruits; however, they are correctly considered vegetables in a culinary context. The success story of the chilli is remarkable as the world production and consumption is now 20 times that of black pepper, the other major pungent spice (On Food and Cooking, p 418).
Hungary has its Paprika, Spain its Pimenton, Italy its Peperoni and in China chilli is a major spice in Sichuan and Hunan, but Mexico remains the most advanced country when it comes to chilli culture, it being a major ingredient in Salsas. At Neantóg Kitchen Garden School we grow it mainly to produce our own sauces (see recipe below). The beauty of growing it yourself is in the choice of varieties, from mild to super-hot.
What makes Chillies so special?
It is Capsaicin, the active chemical ingredient, contained in the placenta, the tissue that bears the seeds. The variety and the growing conditions – high temperatures and the length of the season – contribute to the amount of capsaicin produced. The heat of a chilli is measured on the Scoville Scale in Scoville heat units (SHU), or capsaicin concentration, named after its creator, US pharmacist Wilbur Scoville. SHU values range from 0 in a sweet bell pepper to 2,000,000-2,200,000 in a Trinidad Moruga Scorpion or Carolina Reaper. Naturally, there is the burning sensation in our mouth which for some is pure pleasure.
By Hans Wieland
I can’t really remember what came first: buying and cooking with whole foods, or consciously introducing more fermented foods in our diet and thus revisiting the food tradition our parents grew up with. Having bought a small farm in rural Ireland in 1985 and starting out to grow and produce most of our own food, it all fell into place naturally. We started growing vegetables and fermenting them for use in the winter, milking cows and goats and making cheeses, buying local grain in Enniscrone and baking with sourdough. I strongly believe that the ultimate culinary connections are between the soil and the gut, and between growing and cooking. Today I will make the connection with the visible prebiotic vegetables and the hidden or not visible probiotic bacteria, because eating organic whole foods rich in fibre (carbohydrates) is as important for your gut health as consuming fermented foods. But first things first!
“Grow” prebiotics to “feed” probiotics!
Probiotics and prebiotics both serve important health functions for our digestive system in the human gut. Probiotics are live microorganisms that live inside your gastrointestinal tract. They aid in digestion by essentially cleaning out the gut so that things keep flowing. Like all living things, probiotics need to be fed in order to remain active and healthy and to benefit us as much as possible.
Prebiotics are types of dietary fibre that feed the friendly bacteria in our gut. Prebiotics act as food for probiotics. In other words, probiotics eat prebiotics. This helps the gut bacteria produce nutrients for our colon cells and leads to a healthier digestive system. “The ultimate culinary connections are between the soil and the gut, and between growing and cooking.” In a nutshell, prebiotics are a type of undigestible plant fibre that can only be eaten by nice bacteria. The more food or prebiotics that probiotics have to eat, the more efficiently these live bacteria work and the healthier our gut will be. Much has been said about the health benefits of prebiotic food and higher intakes of prebiotics are linked to many health benefits like lower risk for cardiovascular disease, healthier cholesterol levels, improved digestion, and higher immune function.
Grow for your gut: Classic Prebiotic Vegetables Since fibre is the source for prebiotics, foods that are high in fibre are also typically high in prebiotics.
My top contenders on the prebiotic foods list are:
1. Chicory Root, popular for its coffeelike flavour and a replacement for coffee, is a great source of prebiotics.
2. Dandelion Greens are a great fibrerich substitute for greens in your salad or a spicy addition.
3. Jerusalem Artichokes have been shown to increase the friendly bacteria in the colon even better than chicory root. 4. Garlic and Onions not only give great flavour to our foods but provide us with prebiotics.
5. Asparagus is another great source of prebiotics and also protein.
Probiotics love Prebiotics and Prebiotics love Gardeners
As gardeners and growers we are in a very powerful position when it comes to gut health. We can grow the best prebiotic foods ourselves, but not all vegetables are the same and probiotics are choosy! They especially love vegetables from the onion family and the daisy family and many are very easy to grow. In the onion family we have garlic, onion, leeks, chives and scallions. Maybe not so well known are the members of the daisy family: Jerusalem artichoke, globe artichoke, chicory, endive, lettuce and scorzonera. Give Jerusalem and globe artichokes a permanent bed in your garden and you will be richly rewarded. Endive and chicory are fantastic salad plants throughout the winter months and deserve to be grown more. And then there is one of my favourite ‘unusual’ vegetables, yacon. I grow it in the polytunnel with great success and good yield. It tastes best raw, grated in a salad with carrots. Probiotics also love potato skins and cold potatoes. No wonder then that they love my favourite prebiotic dish: potato salad.
By Hans Wieland
Helping children develop a healthy attitude to food can sometimes be hard. Screaming children in the supermarket aisle and fussy eaters at the dinner table are a headache for parents. I believe that connecting children to growing food at an early age can be part of solving these problems. Our family gathering last Christmas threw up interesting observations.
All of our children cooked in turns with fresh ingredients from the local farmers’ market and our garden. Our twelve year old grandson wanted a recipe journal as a present to start collecting recipes of dishes he likes to eat and wants to cook and our seven year old granddaughter helps with harvesting lettuce from the polytunnel. I think this is rooted in having a garden where they have all sown seeds at various stages of their lives or were sent to fetch vegetables for cooking dinner. Like one of my food heroes, Diana Kennedy, I believe “cooking is about understanding ingredients and respecting traditions”. If you have a garden with a vegetable and herb patch for your children you can grow and harvest many basic ingredients for dinner.
If you then go shopping with your children for the ingredients you don’t have at home and involve your children in helping to prepare dinner, the chances they will eat what you have created together are quite high. It is a case of leading by example. If you can do it, your children can do it too. Culinary connections between parents and children happen while eating together, they are enhanced by cooking together, broadened by shopping together but ultimately grounded in gardening together. The innocent and simple actions of sowing seeds in soil, looking after seedlings as they grow and harvesting vegetables to cook and eat will become skills for life and help the kids develop a natural relationship with food and where it comes from.
The Garden in a Box
This is a wonderful project for getting young children into gardening. It doesn’t require space, or even a garden. It is ideal for primary school aged children. For older children, you can use several boxes to increase varieties.
What you need: A wooden or plastic vegetable box (30cm x 40cm approx) from your market or shop, a sheet of plastic to line the box, compost or good weedfree soil, a few packets of seeds for fast growing vegetables or edible flowers, a children’s watering can, labels.
Suitable seeds: Radishes (small bell varieties like Cherry Bell are best); perpetual spinach; lettuce (best varieties are Baby Leaf or Mixed Leaves and cress); edible flowers like nasturtiums, violas and marigold; sweet peas or mangetout (these might need to be supported with short bamboo sticks). Suitable plants: Alpine strawberries. You can start the project from March onwards.
How it works
Gardening often requires the kind of patience that small children rarely possess. The great thing about the garden in a box is that growth is visible so quickly. By following these instructions, you can begin to see the results in just a couple of days. Select your seeds from a seed catalogue and order online or buy together in a garden centre.
Get your children to line the box with the plastic sheet and fill with soil or compost up to 5cm below the edge. Sow seeds in rows about 10-20cm apart. The depth of sowing depends on the size of the seeds. Sprinkle the tiny lettuce seeds on top and firm down with your fingers but sow radish seeds a little deeper and so on.
Keep the box out of the cold. Somewhere like a shed or on a windowsill inside is ideal. Once the first seeds have germinated (i.e. begun to sprout), put the box in a sheltered and sunny spot outdoors. You might cover it with a plastic cloche or garden fleece if it gets cold at night. Watch your garden grow and water a little at a time. Cress can be harvested early as microgreens are ready after just a few days. Watch as your children proudly tend their little garden and look forward to eating those greens they have waited on so patiently to grow.
A Gardening Project for Schools
By Vilma Matuleviciute, Msc (President of IRH)
The Herb Patch started with the idea of bringing green spaces into urban schools that had none. It soon became clear that the garden was a valuable resource that children everywhere should benefit from and it was expanded to include rural schools.
The aim of this project is to give children an opportunity to develop a relationship with plants and an interest in the natural world. A familiarity with how to use herbs to maintain health is a valuable asset for us all and will benefit these children as they grow into adulthood.
Herbs and green spaces are great for children in many other ways – they encourage them to spend more time outside in the fresh air engaging in physical activity and they nurture in the young a sense of stewardship for our planet. They also help children to connect with healthy eating and they love learning about how to use herbs in cooking.
Gardening is great skill for children to cultivate as they discover more about plants and how easy it is to grow them. Even if there are only windows sills or window ledges available, it is still possible to grow a few plants and experience the excitement of watching them develop and learning how to nurture them. Children love growing plants especially ones they can taste and eat!
Discover flavour series No. 4: Bitter
By Hans Wieland
Before I discovered the taste of black coffee as a student, I was allowed as a teenager to have “Muckefuck” or “Caro-Kaffee”, a cereal coffee made from the roots of chicory, ground rye and barley without the addictive caffeine. It was much later in life when I started growing chicory, radicchio and endive as part of my obsession with taste and flavour for salads. They’re a fantastic crop for winter harvesting in my polytunnel and I love the bitterness of their leaves.
Chicory, radicchio and endive aren’t common vegetables in Irish gardens, but that is going to change. Organic garden queen Joy Larkcom, asked recently at a public interview at the GIY Growfest in Waterford about what she wanted to see happening, said, “I would hope gardeners grow more chicory, because they have many merits. They are naturally robust, are mostly easily grown, have few pests and utilise ground that would otherwise be idle in winter.”
Chicories are such a useful crop. They provide salad leaves from autumn right through to early spring if you stagger your sowing and choose varieties that mature at different speeds. I sow into modules late July and early August and then plant early September into ground recently vacated by broad beans, garlic or potatoes. They are not particularly difficult to grow nor fussy about soil type and are very hardy.
The chicories (Cichorium Intybus) are wonderfully diverse and come in several distinct varieties. Radicchio is the popular Italian name for chicory. Rossa die Treviso, Palla Rossa and the green leafed Sugar Loaf are my favourites. Endives (Cichorium Endivia) are another group in the chicory family and like the broad-leafed Nuance and the curly-leafed Pancalieri. The latter is virtually self- blanching.
Discover Flavour Series Part 3: Sour
By Hans Wieland
When my mum sang ‘Kennst du das land, wo die Zitronen blühn…’ (Do you know the land where the lemon trees bloom), she was dreaming of Italy. The lyrics are actually a poem by Goethe, who had visited Italy. My own literary connections to lemons stem from Chris Stewart, a former drummer in Genesis and travel writer (“Driving over lemons”), who moved to the Alpujara mountains in Andalucia to grow lemons and other organic fruits. To compete with Chris not only behind a drum kit but also as an organic farmer I started growing lemons in our conservatory. We are living in the North West of Ireland after all.
Most ecologically minded people, who grow some vegetables and fruits or at least shop local and organic, face some ethical dilemma when it comes to citrus fruits and air miles. And because I use a lot of lemons in my weekly kefir production and also in salad dressings I am in a big dilemma. So “Grow it yourself” is my challenge!
Can we grow our own citrus fruits? Yes, but with a lesser yield. They not only like a high intensity of light, they want to be caressed by the sun, which is a challenge even in the best of Irish summers. They thrive in temperatures of 20-30° Celsius, are an evergreen and tolerate temperatures down to zero in the winter, when the ripening fruits turn yellow.
I started out a few years ago with a three year old tree given to me as a Christmas present. I planted it into a 30 litre pot and positioned it in the south west corner of our conservatory. During the summer I water regularly and feed with homemade compost and comfrey water every two weeks. After Christmas, I usually harvest 15-25 lemons from this one tree.
Some flavours will stay with you forever and thanks to my parents I grew up with the intense sweet aroma of Senga Sengana, their favourite strawberry variety. The 600 strawberry varieties found today stem from five or six original wild species and differ greatly in shape, colour and taste. Typically, the larger the berry, the more water it contains; the smaller the berry, the better the flavour. Still, nothing comes close to the essence of wild strawberries, but if there ever was a reason to grow your own it is for the sweetest most nutritious strawberry. Once harvested it will not ripen and after 2 days of storage will lose a high percentage of Vitamins and polyphenol antioxidants.
Growing Sweet Strawberries
Strawberries, except for Alpine varieties, need a sunny position and to grow the sweetest strawberries your soil conditions have to be perfect: A fertile, well drained, ideally slightly acidic soil. I find they yield more and are sweeter when grown in compost-enriched soil. At least 8 hours of sunlight are essential for growing sweet strawberries. Overcrowded plants are more likely to produce small and often sour berries, that’s why I space them about 30cm apart. I grow some red and white Alpine strawberries in the polytunnel as border plants and most of my outdoor strawberries are in containers, which gives me more control over the soil and especially pests like birds and slugs. I keep 3-4 runners of the best plants each year and replace any plant older than 4 years.
Mieze Schindler is the one
If you haven’t tried Mieze Schindler, you haven’t lived. Named 1935 by breeder Otto Schindler after his wife it is the most popular strawberry across much of Europe because the flavour is out of this world, sweet and succulent, not watery or dull. The fruits are so soft and delicate that they are unsuitable for transport, so this variety has never even stepped foot inside a supermarket and you have to grow it yourself to experience this unmistakable aroma!
While my Senga Sengana is still the most popular variety in German gardens, Elsanta is the favourite amongst many Irish growers. It is not only loved for its flavour, it is extremely high in Vitamin C and like all strawberries fat free, sweet but low in sugar and low in calories.
The aphrodisiac power of strawberries
Touted as an aphrodisiac fruit since the times of ancient Rome, the strawberry was a symbol of Venus. People are going on about strawberries and whipped c ream or dipping strawberries in chocolate, but I remember the simplicity of a desert served up by Bernadette O’Shea of the late Truffles restaurant in Sligo: Fresh strawberries in season on our own goats quark!
You don’t have to go as far as Noma and serve “Strawberries and straw” (strawberries served with chamomile, elderflower and small discs of hay parfait), simply try the following:
Strawberry Guacamole with avocado, mint and lime juice.
Salad with rocket, hazelnuts, blue cheese and strawberries
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This is an taken from our Summer 2015 issue. Subscribe here to have the autumn issue and the following three delivered direct to your door.
Noocity are an urban farming start-up from Portugal who want to make growing things at home much easier for you, even if you live in a tiny apartment. Their recent ‘Growbed’ project was a great success on Indigogo, receiving 195% per cent of their funding goal. The idea behind Noocity came up during the spring of 2013 when friends José Ruivo, Pedro Monteiro and Samuel Rodrigues decided to plant a vegetable patch on the terrace of a building in Oporto’s city centre, in Portugal. They had resolved to grow their own food, but couldn’t find the right products for urban agriculture; so they gathered their efforts and experience in architecture and permaculture and decided to build their own equipment. By the summer of the same year, they were already sharing vegetables and aromatic herbs that grew rapidly in a bunch of boxes and systems, where before there had only been concrete.
Their mission overall is to help you bring food production into your home and in order to do that, they develop efficient and affordable equipment that allows people to produce food in cities in a simple and environmentally friendly way. Growing food in your home is easier than you might think but there’s help at hand too if you’re new to it or struggling with anything in particular. Through their online network, they encourage the exchange of experiences and offer practical guidance.
Their recent crowd-funding campaign was launched make their ‘Growbed’ product available and receiving more than their target, it’s obviously something that a lot of people are looking for. The Growbed is a self-watering, self-fertilising urban gardening system. Due to the self-watering method, considered the most efficient form of growing plants in soil, it’s self-sufficient for up to three weeks, solving common problems such as excess or insufficient watering or even just heading off on holidays for a few days or a few weeks. The system also drastically reduces water loss through evaporation or drainage, consuming up to 80% less water than conventional cultivation systems.