II: Horseradish

Horseradish is definitely trying to kill you.

duodi, the 12th of Frimaire, Year CCXXXI
Horseradish, straight from the filthy earth. Photo by Bicanski on Pixnio.

Good morning. Today is duodi, the 12th of Frimaire, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate le raifort, a root that goes down kicking.

The majority of the world's cultivated horseradish is grown in three counties in southern Illinois, just east of St. Louis. Collinsville, Illinois, proclaims itself to be the horseradish capital of the world – 60% to 70% of the world's supply comes out of the potash-rich earth a few miles from its town center – and holds the International Horseradish Festival each summer. (It takes place in the shadow of the World's Largest Catsup Bottle. Collinsville knows how to party.) Unfortunately, it appears the two most interesting traditions at the festival have been discontinued in recent years: the crowning of Little Miss Horseradish, and a racing derby where the cars are made of horseradish root. One can only imagine what calamities (or single calamity!) led to the abolishment of such time-honored traditions.

Horseradish is definitely trying to kill you.

The spice of the horseradish root has some similarities to capsaicin, the famously prickly spice in hot peppers – they attack similar pain receptors – but unlike capsaicin, which will sting your skin on contact as a fair warning of what's to come, horseradish disguises itself as a perfectly inert parsnip-looking thing until it meets your mouth, when it goes off like a grenade.