Monday, July 03, 2023

Our grandparents were right: Why horseradish belongs on the seder plate

Growing up, horseradish always occupied the maror location on the Passover seder plate. When I got married, we upgraded this tradition, trading jarred horseradish for freshly grated horseradish root. In the past few years, I've tried to convince all that will listen that we can do better than horseradish. See, I explain, the word maror comes from the root mar--which means bitter. But horseradish isn't bitter, it's spicy. And besides, we've got easy access to garlic mustard and dandelions, which are bitter and easy to forage, something our people as slaves would have done. And then there's the matter of waste: once the Passover seder is over, what am I supposed to do with this massive horseradish root?

Still, Shira and others remain unconvinced. Our grandparents used horseradish and no doubt their grandparents did too, so it should remain.

When our last Passover completed I realized I could at least avoid wasting it by planting it.

The first problem arose when I started this project. I pulled the horseradish from the fridge and found it to be a shriveled shadow of its former self. It had been weeks since I'd purchased it, and the once impressive veggie was looking the worse for wear.

Undeterred, I sliced up the root into three parts. I dropped one of the sections into water and left it on the counter. I put the other two chunks into the ground, figuring I'd let nature take its course.

The next day, I found two surprises. First, the once shriveled root had slurped up much of the water it was in and was looking plump. Outside, some critter had decided to dig up the roots that I'd planted. They looked undamaged, but were no longer covered by soil. It's like some squirrel was playing a game of you-bury, I-dig.

I replanted the two outdoor roots and found the next day they were once again dug up. I took the hint and brought both of the roots inside. I ended up putting all three in water.

For the next few weeks I marveled as all three chunks of horseradish formed delicate roots and shoots. Of course, this is exactly how YouTube and other web pages said it would go. But still, it's impressive to see this happen IRL.

When the first of the trio had a healthy number of leaves I planted it outside and hoped for the best. The next day I found the root still in the ground (hurray!) but one of its large leaves had been munched off (boo!). I thought, oh well, I guess I took all this time to grow these plants indoors so they could feed the squirrels outdoors. I took some comfort knowing that at least some creature was getting some benefit from this project. However, I'd counted the horseradish out too soon. Even injured, it continued to grow undeterred.

This morning, I snapped these pics of three healthy horseradish plants. I'm amazed. To anyone with even a bit of gardening skill and knowledge of the horseradish plant, I'm quite certain, this is all to be expected. But given my track record of plant failure, I'm amazed.

More than anything else though, I'm humbled. I underestimated horseradish. Horseradish may not be bitter, but it is patient and incredibly resilient. Horseradish, absolutely belongs on the seder plate. It's not just a reminder of the bitter times our ancestors endured, but it's a survivor. If given a chance, it will teach you a direct lesson about how life has the ability to thrive even after the most difficult of trials. Horseradish is hope.

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