By KAREN SCHWALLER
Farm News staff writer
SUPERIOR – Who says guys don’t cry?
Recently, a group of eight men gathered at the farm home of Dave and Beverly McBreen near Superior – all neighbors and friends. The group had gathered mostly to have a good time and share in some friendly ribbing, guy philosophy and good company.
But the main event for the day was to, once again, make the horseradish.
There was the usual “man banter,” with jokes, well-meaning insults and laughter filling the air, but when it comes to making horseradish, Dave McBreen is pretty serious about getting it right.
“They all (complain), but they always come back when it’s time to do this,” McBreen joked quietly as the men prepared for the job behind him. “It really is a good time.”
McBreen barely remembers getting started in this unusual business 15 years ago, because it happened so gradually. A few years before that, he used to help an older gentleman from Superior, Daryld “Kernel” Frederick, make horseradish.
“We used to do the horseradish over at his place, and before you know it, I started planting my own horseradish, and we were doing it all over here, his stuff and mine,” McBreen said.
He started with a patch of horseradish plants in the garden, and preserved anywhere between five and a dozen jars of it each year. Today his horseradish plants, six rows planted around the couple’s acreage, would equal two football fields in length.
Now Breen and his posse of horseradish professionals gather three or four times a year to put up around 1,400 jars of it annually. It’s hard for them to remember how they got roped into it or for how long they’ve all been helping with it.
How it’s done
McBreen said the horseradish can be dug in any month that has the letter “R” in it. He dug some up in March to preserve. The horseradish is unearthed with a backhoe, borrowed from a local construction contractor. From there it goes into a large, long, electricity-powered cylinder-shaped container on skids, which washes the stalks.
Breen said the cylinder was lying idle at a local welding shop near Terril. He determined it would work great for washing the horseradish, so he packed it up and hauled it home.
“We use as little water as we can to wash it, because if you use too much, it will start to take away the flavor,” McBreen explained.
The cylinder with the horseradish wash is dumped several times-maybe 10 times or more; and once the water runs clean, they know the horseradish stalks are clean and ready to be “scraped.”
The scraping process is just like peeling carrots. Vegetable peelers and knives come out and the skin is peeled from the stalks. This process alone takes about three hours. The peeled stalks get cut into smaller pieces, and placed into a grinder to become smaller pieces. After this, a 1/8-inch wheel is inserted into the grinder, the horseradish is reduced to even smaller pieces.
McBreen said the pungent aroma during the grinding process almost drives them out of the garage. It’s at that time when the eyes begin to sting and the tears come out. Occasionally, the men grinding will need to step away from the process and go out into the fresh air to relieve their stinging and watery eyes.
“We like to get newcomers here,” McBreen began to joke. ” and we like to give them an education. We’ll start grinding, then ask them to come over to see if it smells alright. Once they get a good whiff of that horseradish it’s all over.”
Each worker laughed, recalling their own initiation.
After the grinding process, the product is placed into seven-ounce plastic jars. Each man has a job. Two workers place the product into the jars; one man weighs the product and two others top the jars off with straight vinegar. A couple of guys put the lids on the jars, and yet another man wipes off the jars and places them on the table of finished product, waiting for labels.
All this time, McBreen himself is mixing horseradish in a large bowl for those people who like their horseradish in a little larger quantity. Some of it goes into gallon jars, and gallon plastic bags to freeze. He’s quite a stickler on getting it right.
“The trick is in the consistency,” he said seriously, as he poured a couple of bottles of vinegar into a large bowl of ground horseradish. “I’ve tried it every way possible. Now I can tell by stirring and looking at it when it’s right.
“You have to have just the right amount of liquid because you can take away the flavor, or it can taste vinegary if you put too much in.”
As McBreen poured into and stirred his bowl of ground horseradish, the other men were sharing the different ways they themselves use this horseradish at their homes.
Many of them make a shrimp cocktail sauce. One recipe called for:
2 tablespoons horseradish
1 clove garlic
1 stalk celery
Ketchup to taste
One man mixes the horseradish with ketchup to make a cocktail sauce; another man said he enjoys horseradish on mashed potatoes, and another mixes it with sour cream to spread on prime rib.
The horseradish goes into refrigeration indefinitely once the process is completed. Breen gives much of it away and sells a little here and there.
The process takes most of the day. But through the stinging eyes, the tears and the repetitive work that goes along with this process, the men agree that it’s just something they like to do.
“I work for Dave, so I have to do it,” joked Bob Hess. “But I really enjoy the camaraderie.” One man joked that he came for the free pizza at noon.
Colleague Bill Albertson jokingly added, “The conversation is great and it’s fun to see someone new cry.”
Contact Schwaller at email@example.com.
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