Then there’s Collinsville, on the other side of Illinois. What makes Collinsville unique? Horseradish. In fact, Collinsville proclaims itself the Horseradish Capital of the World and will hold its 27th International Horseradish Festival.
That’s right, horseradish. Although I have to admit that’s no weirder than a Cow Chip Festival.
“Why horseradish?” I asked Mike Pamatot who, with his wife Kim, co-chairs the Collinsville International Horseradish Festival.
“Well,” he chuckled. “In any given year, the area around Collinsville produces 60-80 percent of the horseradish supply, mostly in Madison and St. Clair counties.”
“In America?” I asked. “No, in the world,” Pamatot replied. Which explains the “international” and “of the world” monikers.
Pamatot says that the horseradish festival started out as a one day – really half a day – event that was more of a barbecue picnic off Main Street than an actual festival.
Since then the Collinsville International Horseradish Festival has blossomed into three full days of celebration that attracts around 30,000 attendees. Some of the visitors even come from overseas, including three Austrian horseradish farmers, who not only came for the festival, but also to study the Collinsville farmer’s methods.
The biggest draw, says Pamatot, are the horseradish grinding demonstrations, which are held each day. Local growers have a special grind that’s not only demonstrated, but also in the Horseradish Growers of Illinois tent, where the Festival’s specially prepared horseradish, as well as whole roots, are for sale. Horseradish is at its hottest when freshly ground. Many say that the specially ground horseradish condiment loses much of its punch in a few months, but Pamatot shared his secret for long-term storage: “If you turn the bottle upside down in the freezer, it’s good for about a year.”
What makes the area around Collinsville so good for growing horseradish? The answer is potash, which the Mississippi River infused especially well into the soil of Collinsville’s river bottom farms. Potassium-rich potash imbues extra heat into the horseradish roots.
The festival has an Amateur Recipe Contest and a Sunday Bloody Mary contest. But many more use horseradish in unconventional, even wacky, ways, including:
• The Washer Tournament – a sort of horseradish version of horseshoes (the game, not to be confused with Springfield’s special sandwich, although I think a horseshoe with horseradish cheese sauce would be delicious).
• The Root Toss – Wherein the goal is to see who can throw a horseradish the furthest.
• Root Golf – The knob of the horseradish root is carved to somewhat replicate a golf ball.
• Root Sacking Contest – I thought this would be a variant on an ordinary gunny sack race, but I was wrong: each two-person team tries to fill a gunny sack with as many horseradish roots as possible in 30 seconds.
• The Bag Tournament – Much like a bean bag toss, using horseradish as the tossed article.
• The Horseradish Root Derby – This sounds like the most intriguing contest: Children make a rolling vehicle from horseradish roots, then compete to see whose travels furthest.
There’s lots more: a horseradish 5K run, a Little Miss Horseradish Festival Pageant, a craft fair, children’s activities and, new this year, hot air balloon rides on Friday evening. There will be live music – mostly 50s-60s and bluegrass – throughout the festival.
And, of course, food. Each of the nine vendors, who range from local eateries to civic organizations, must offer at least one item that includes horseradish. Options range from barbecue – including a Mongolian horseradish barbecue – to Greek items, crab cake sandwiches, American classics such as a fried bologna and cheese sandwich, and the usual corndogs and funnel cakes.
The 27th annual International Horseradish Festival takes place from June 6-8 in Collinsville’s Woodland Park; Friday hours: 6-10 p.m., Saturday hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Admission and parking is free.
For more information, visit the festival website: www.horseradishfestival.net.
Ceviche is perfect warm weather fare. I’ve adapted this unusual version from Craig Claiborne’s Cooking with Herbs and Spices, a classic that was first published in 1963.
• 1 1/2 c. coarsely chopped walnuts
• 3 lbs. fresh salmon
• 1 T. fresh lemon juice
• 6 T. fresh lime juice
• 8 T. extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 T. soy sauce
• 1 T. horseradish
• 2 tsp. salt
• 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 6 medium ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
• 1 medium red onion, diced, about 3/4 to 1 cup
• Soft lettuce leaves such as Boston or Bibb lettuce
• Fresh tomato slices
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Scatter the walnuts over a baking sheet or length of foil and bake for 5-10 minutes stirring them occasionally. Cook only until they are crisp and lightly browned.
Trim the skin off the salmon, removing any bones. Place the salmon in the freezer and chill until partially frozen, 15-30 minutes. This makes slicing the salmon thinly much easier. Slice the salmon as thinly as possible into pieces that are approximately 1 inch x 2 inch. Transfer the slices to large mixing bowl.
Combine the lemon and lime juices, olive oil, soy sauce, horseradish, salt, pepper, chopped tomatoes, and onion. Pour the mixture over the fish and gently stir until mixed.
Refrigerate, gently stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula, for 3 hours.
Just before serving, stir in the walnuts. Serve on the lettuce leaves, either individual leaves or lining a large shallow bowl with them. Garnish with the tomato slices. Serves 16 as an appetizer.
Beets and horseradish are a match made in heaven. Variants of this recipe can be found all over Eastern Europe, from Greece to Poland.
Beets with sour cream and horseradish
• 2 bunches of beets, similarly sized
• Cooking oil
• 1 c. sweet onion, such as Vidalia
• 3/4 c. sour cream
• 1 T. grated horseradish
• 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• Salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Wash the beets well, and cut off all but about 1 inch of the stems. Place them in a single layer on a sheet of foil large enough to completely enfold them. Drizzle with a little oil, just enough to barely coat them. Fold the foil to completely wrap the beets, crimping the edges to seal.
Place in the oven. Cooking time will vary with the beets’ size; start checking after about 40 minutes. When done, they can easily be pierced with a pairing knife or skewer.
Unwrap the beets and let come to room temperature. The peels will be easily removed with the fingers. Use gloves to prevent getting your hands stained.
The beets can be sliced, or in the case of smaller beets, quartered or halved.
Combine the remaining ingredients and mix them thoroughly with the beets. Chill for at least a few hours and up to overnight to blend the flavors. Serves 4-6.
Contact Julianne Glatz at firstname.lastname@example.org.