the importance of having horseradish


a simple, ugly root was at the heart of a quest i had last week. i sought horseradish. for three days and four supermarkets, i bravely hunted. i was misguided, led astray by seemingly friendly produce managers and left empty-handed among the kumquats and ginger. but i waged on. i needed to have horseradish.

sure, i could have caved and bought the pre-made, jarred kind. i could have made far less work for myself. i could have skipped the mission, the peeling of the tough skin, the chopping of the tough flesh, the watering eyes as i prepared the pungent root. but, when it comes to cooking, i am a purist. and real, home made, painful horseradish on easter sunday goes beyond being a recipe – it’s a tradition.

it’s hard to explain why it is so important to me, why i put irrational stress on myself over a simple condiment. nobody else wanted or expected it, i was not following through on a promise or the whim of another. the desire, the need, was all mine. i don’t ask anyone else to understand it, i only ask those i celebrate with to enjoy it. (although, this year’s batch is more potent than usual, so enjoying it may be a lot to ask!)

my love of the bitter, burning herb must be in my blood. it’s been served at every family easter i can remember, and i proved myself capable of handling such delicious pain at an early age. it feels like home, tastes like family. it is an unusual and powerful connection i have, deeply rooted in the love from which i grew.

the horseradish is merely a symbol. it burns, makes me red, makes me cry. but every tear it brings to my eye brings me back to every easter of my youth. back to the red faces of my father and grandfather, piling obscene amounts of horseradish onto hard-boiled eggs, daring each other to go further, eyes streaming with tears. i remember the warmth of childhood easter, the new dresses and the hunt for the plastic eggs filled with treasure.  i feel the grass between my toes, jelly shoes slipped off in haste, while i blow bubbles and spin in the sunshine with my sister. i smell my grandmother, feel the mix of smoke and estee lauder perfume in my throat. i relive every beautiful moment.

now, more than ever, it is important to me to feel that connection. it’s been almost two years since i moved 300 miles from my family, and getting together for the holidays doesn’t always work out. i miss my family, i miss visits to new york, i miss home. i do what i can to bring myself closer to the ones i love, to keep my memories fresh and the spirit of familial love alive.  i take what i have learned and am passing it on, proud of where i have come from, using it all to spread the love.

i have been so lucky to have such great people, here in my new home state, with which to share my strange traditions and abundance of holiday food. we have had a few fun, filling, and memorable holidays, complete with silly stories of collapsing tables and plenty of beers. and there will be many more holidays, and more traditions of our own, as we grow and have our own families.

it’s the small things that keep us connected, that tie us together.  i’ll always have horseradish in my heart.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. liv2write2day
    Apr 05, 2011 @ 16:21:51

    I enjoyed how the quest for horseradish took you into memories. Whatever you do, don’t plant it. It takes over and invades and you’ll never get it under control…as my gardener, cook hubby found out.

    Reply

  2. Jingle
    Apr 04, 2011 @ 21:36:05

    preserving tradition is important.

    holiday togetherness is vital, love the ending line.

    A+

    Reply

  3. Frank
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 17:02:35

    I am so thankful I got to enjoy that horseradish. It was truly awesome! You could really taste the love.:)

    Reply

  4. Janet
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 09:52:09

    You should’ve been shopping around my way (albeit several states in the wrong direction) – I saw huge horeradish roots at the produce store in my hood.

    While I don’t share your horseradish Easter tradition, I do love the stuff…and I enjoy experiencing nostalgic feelings, even secondhand.

    Reply

  5. Oblivion
    Mar 24, 2008 @ 15:56:00

    I can ABSOLUTELY relate to the need for horseradish on on Easter eggs. It’s something my immediate family spread to our extended family a bit, but for the most part people think I’m nuts when the see me pile a tablespoon of fresh horseradish on an egg that was quite recently so pretty, yet now represents pure evil.

    I, too, am over 300 miles from my father and sister – my co-conspirators in horseradish hedonism. The sad fact is that this year I let myself down and didn’t get a hold of any horseradish to prepare – and a foot of new snow has buried what’s in the garden. On top of that, I’ve only had one hard-boiled egg, and that was today, not Easter Sunday. I tried to make due with some crap ‘horseradish mustard’ in the fridge at work, but it was nowhere near the same.

    Sure, my cholesterol levels thank me, but what a blow to tradition.

    I’m glad you followed through.

    (FYI, I got here via Twitter. Me = oblivion)

    Reply

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