Roots for the Home Team

It'll be a hot time in the old town at Collinsville's International Horseradish Festival

Now, there's some sad things known to man, but ain't too much sadder than the handling of horseradish.

Sad songs. Sad books. Sad movies. And not one comes to mind about eating this perilous herb.

When asked what brought him the most pleasure in 55 years of farming 40 acres of horseradish just northwest of Collinsville, Illinois, retired grower John Keller says, "The most was receiving the check after it was harvested." One might say that he cried all the way to the bank.

Whether you count this root of the mustard family as a family staple or you just like spicy weekends, you should visit the fifteenth annual International Horseradish Festival, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, June 7, and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, June 8, at Woodland Park in Collinsville.

The Collinsville area, whose population sports the clearest sinuses in the galaxy, grows 60 percent of the world's horseradish. It's a testament to stout Germanic heritage and the kind of dirt that puts wild horses into the radish.

"Horseradish is a 'deep feeder' -- the roots go down deep," says Keller, 83, whose pep is like the first whiff out of the jar. "Over the millenniums and over eternity, we've had the erosions that brought in all that topsoil from up north. Now we're taking advantage of it, because our topsoil down here is five, six and seven feet deep."

That's as deep as the pride in the festival, proceeds from which help local people in need and fund community projects. Visitors will inhale tangy music and food, as well as creative competitions such as the horseradish-root toss, a root-sacking contest, the Bloody Mary recipe contest and a new attraction: the root derby, in which toy cars made from horseradish are raced.

 
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