A horseradish party. Sounds unbelievable and just a bit out of the ordinary! But for Sandra and Roger Molenaar, of rural Prinsburg, it’s an annual event.
Sandra and her husband, Roger, enjoy the horseradish on just about everything they eat. Photo by Bev Ahlquist
They both love horseradish. Well, he loves it more than she does, and every fall they have 20 to 25 people over to harvest their horseradish.
“I call it my horseradish party. We have so much fun so we call it the big party,” said Sandra.
She said her aunt and uncle from Cedar Mills brought them horseradish plants, and she planted them, then had to wait two years before she could do anything with them. After the two-year period was over, she took a potato fork, dug down in the ground and harvested those plants. “We could do that within a couple hours because we didn’t have much. Then it just keeps getting bigger and bigger so now we did it with the backhoe. It’s deep, and we have quite a party.”
The horseradish is first grown in just a small area, but it spreads quickly every year, Roger said. Sandra said she keeps pulling it out every year and transplanting it. “Wherever you cut it off it runs new shoots.”
Roger Molenaar, of rural Prinsburg, shows off the size of the horseradish he just harvested. Photo by Bev Ahlquist
Even the peelings will grow, so you can’t get away with nothing, they said. Roger said it’s almost worse than weeds. “I tried putting tin cans over some to kill them, but two weeks later I take the can off, and it’s as green as can be. I tried WD40 and Roundup but wasn’t too successful at it.
It looks like a radish, he said. They grow straight down, and you cut the tops off. “We have quite a party – we grind it with a couple meat grinders so it grinds real hard.”
Roger said he doesn’t know how they’re going to get rid of it when they can’t do this anymore. He plows the whole garden, but it just comes back up. “We used to do this with another couple for about 10 years. But now we dig it one day, wash it and clean it and process it the next day.”
They start on a Friday afternoon, washing it in an old wringer washer, using Scotch-Brite to scrub it clean. “It has a tough skin. We rub it off and rinse it in the water – it’s quite a deal, and it’s kind of messy,” said Sandra.
Next, they grind the horseradish. This is all done in the shop rather than the house. “We do it outside because you can’t stand the smell….you just cry, and I tell the guys “It’s just happy tears don’t worry about it,’” said Sandra.
Some wear a mask when they’re working with it because the smell gets so bad, Sandra said, noting they open the window in the shop, have the doors open and fans running.
A friend of the Molenaars uses a mask as he grinds the horseradish. The smell is pretty strong. Photo by Bev Ahlquist
Roger said the horseradish got out of hand about 10 years ago, and more people started showing up to help with the harvest, from the digging of it to the cleaning and the canning.
Roger said they love horseradish. “For breakfast I have toast with peanut butter and horseradish on top of the peanut butter. Her cousin came up with that one and I liked it.” Sandra said Roger likes it on everything and in sandwiches. She uses the horseradish when she prepares a roast. “But he puts more on as he’s eating.” She also puts it in her potato salad dressing and homemade soups. “It gives it such a nice flavor, but otherwise, I’m not a big fan of it yet, but I’m getting a little better.” The horseradish is also good in deviled eggs, she said, but you don’t want very much since it’s very strong with a sharp taste.
In addition to canning the horseradish, they also freeze a bunch. Everybody takes 60 to 70 jars home with them, leaving 80-90 jars for Sandra and Roger. Sandra said just with breakfast alone, Roger goes through a jar in two weeks.
The horseradish party is like family, she said, everybody brings soup and sandwiches, and they have a potluck.
A group of women work together to can the horseradish. Photo by Bev Ahlquist
Some make sweet pickles out of the horseradish. Sandra’s cousin runs a butcher shop in Corvuso, and they take a bunch and make them into pickles and sell them. “They go to auctions, and sometimes they do the lunch, and people are just crazy to buy them that way.”
Sandra said horseradish is supposed to be very healthy, if you can tolerate eating it. Roger has a great aunt, and she was still eating it when she was 98 years old.
There were at least 20 people working the day this reporter was at their home. They came from Hutchinson, Cokato, the West Coast, the state of Washington, Alexandria, St. Cloud and Renville. Some came from the state of Washington just to do this. “It’s a big family affair; 75 percent of the people are all family, and others are friends.” Roger said they’ve been doing this close to 40 years, and they look forward to this big party every year.