Horseradish is a pungent, tangy root with a punch of heat that makes itself known in the nasal passages rather than on the tongue. Grated and taken in small doses, it is a perfect pairing for other highly flavored foods such as beef, pork and oysters, cutting the richness of those foods and adding an addictive savoriness to them that makes one keep coming back for more.

To grow, horseradish is a snap, but be aware that it has a tendency toward bad manners in gardens south of Maine. In Maine, our winters are sufficiently harsh to keep the root from taking over its neighbors, but even so, an every-other-year cutting back and root digging isn’t out of order.

Spring is the time to plant the root, and the first year it yields healthy but not hugely vigorous green leaves and roots that can be harvested in the fall.

If you’ve ever tried to divide hostas or rhubarb, you’ll already have an idea of the care you need to take with your spade as you coax roots from soil.

The leaves are not edible to my knowledge and can simply be composted.

The roots are the gem of this plant. When I processed my latest batch, I found myself wondering, as I often do, how the first people to eat this root decided it was a good idea.

Once the root is wrenched free of its moorings, so to speak, scrub it well with a vegetable brush under cool running water. Peel the root of its darker coating until the creamy white flesh is revealed. At this point, dig out any dark spots or skin that is unreachable by the peeler.

Then grate away, in either a food processor with a fine grate or on a box grater with a fine grate, taking care with the ventilation in your kitchen. A well ventilated area is essential, even if you are grating the root by hand, but crucial if grating with a food processor. The volatile oils that one recognizes in a fresh batch of store-bought horseradish are magnified by both the freshness of the root and the volume of the batch.

All eye-watering discomfort aside — and hey, we go through something similar to get onions into many of our dishes — horseradish is a wonderful accompaniment to many a dish. 

HORSERADISH

For every cup of finely grated horseradish add:

A generous pinch of salt

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 very scant pinch of sugar

Mix well and serve, or combine with other ingredients to make a special dish even more so.

Combine with a small amount of whipped cream, salt and pepper to make an elegant accompaniment to a rib roast or seared pork chop.

CRANBERRY HORSERADISH RELISH

This relish is wonderful served on grilled or roasted pork or as an appetizer over cream cheese. Mix it with sour cream to dollop into a beef and cabbage stew or over salmon.

2 cups whole raw cranberries

3 tablespoons grated horseradish, fresh or bottled

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup sugar

In a food processor, pulse cranberries, lemon juice, horseradish and sugar until well mixed. Prepare at least two days ahead of serving to allow the flavors to meld and macerate.

Makes about 2 cups.

LIME AND HORSERADISH MINGONETTE

Ever since the J. & E. Riggin, our Maine windjammer, turned 85 last year, I’ve been serving oysters on the first night. It began as a novelty, but quickly became a staple menu item. While the oysters themselves are now regulars, how I serve them is not.

I began with the more traditional ways of serving them — baguette, butter, sea salt and lemon or the down-South way of Tabasco, lemon and crackers. But it didn’t take long before I was branching out into new realms. This is one of my favorites.

2 tablespoons horseradish

Zest from 1 lime

Juice from 1 lime

Pinch of salt

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and serve immediately with fresh oysters on ice. 

Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of “At Home, At Sea.” She can be reached at:

[email protected]