In which we discover that last names are underrated, there are always worse mothers-in-law, and that horseradish can be a gateway to a better life. We also find that kindness, goodness and a close relationship with the King of Birds are an advantage in life.
A Search for a Lost Husband Takes Many Forms
What did you think of the tale? I found it absolutely fascinating as nominally its exactly the same as tale type as The Sprig of Rosemary but it has perhaps more differences than similiarities. This is a Sicilian tale which may explain some of those differences. This tale is clearly a more popular retelling of the myth of Psyche and Cupid using elements of the Sicilian and Italian culture. This variant is a mixture of the tale of how the wife is punished for her curiosity as egged on by her envious sisters and the form of the the tale where her husband takes the form of animal, in this case a bird.
Son of a Witch
Shall we look at some of the more unusual elements? Firstly Rosella is heavily pregnant which makes her journey and any tasks just that much harder. When I red the tale as collected by Thomas Frederick Crane, this is glossed over but that probably comes from Victorian sensibilities as opposed to any other reason for hiding it. The other part of this tale is classed as 425B ‘The Son of the Witch or the Witches Task. The major differences to similar Scandinavian tales I have heard are that the siblings of the ogress are determined to help the heroine.
The way that Rosella escapes from the Ogress’s godmother is unusual in how close it comes (although containing much more details) to both to the German tale Frau Holle and various tales of Russian origin where similar tactics are used to escape Baba Yaga. The ending of not allowing the heroine to give birth until hands are unclasped and the resulting trickery to end her labour is typically Italian. In English and Scandinavian versions the witch or ogress is startled into revealing the spells she is using to prevent the birth.
A Portuguese Princess
I felt particularly bad for Rosella even after she had completed her task she was still being punished. There is also a nod to the Princess and the Pea here with the big stack of mattresses and the arrival of what we might consider bro be a true-born princess, I would like to raise the issue of the poor King of Portugal’s daughter here who in all the version I have read was killed off for no actions of her own. I decided that she deserved a kinder ending and took some liberties with the tale in her best interest.
We have examined several variants of this tale in the Black Bull of Norroway, The Golden Castle that Hung in the Air and The Sprig of Rosemary so I won’t examine this version any further other than to say that the King of Love is less sympathetic than he ought to be to his beloved’s situation, something which does happen across nearly all of these tales.
Vegetable or Herb
I’m now going to wow you with tales of horseradish, a useful but not particularly beautiful herb. Or is it a herb, maybe its a vegetable or maybe because of its heat levels its a vegetable that we use in the same ways as a herb. I’ll let you decide. Whether herb or vegetable, there’s evidence of its use for over 3,000 years so beautiful or not its clearly has an appeal.
I will be reissuing my warning about using folk remedies without seeking medical advice shortly but first we should consider the name. I’ve been checking it out in the Oxford English History and they believe that it gets its name from the horse meaning coarse or overgrown and radish, the salad vegetable we all know and love.
A Herb of Unknown Origin
That’s all very well you may say, but where does it come from? No-one really knows as it has spread out and made itself native across the world. There are a lot of guesses but many people suggest that it originated in Germany where it is possibly at its most loved. They think it then spread out across Europe and then across to America when Europeans colonised the native peoples there. Horseradish plants spreads very easily and grows from pieces of root so when it is in your garden it is pretty much there to say.
It was famously (and strangely clearly) proclaimed by the Oracle at Delphi as ‘worth its weight in Gold’ but no-one seems to know why. It was valued very much medicinally in ancient Greece and as an aphrodisiac . Well it probably was, the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans being not very clear about exactly which plants they used and the translators did occasionally have to take a good guess. If this is the herb they valued t so highly then they used it to treat back pain and menstrual cramps.
A Medical & Culinary Miracle
It was also used in England medicinally from the Middle Ages onwards before it became prized for its culinary uses from, if I’m to believe the internet, a very precise 1640. We’ll have a look at those medical remedies and a touch of horseradish folklore before we consider that very specific date. I’ll just pop my disclaimer here first that this is all about historic information and is not for medical guidance.
Right, with that out of the way horseradish was used during the Middle Ages to treat a variety of ailments the leaves and roots were used for treating asthma, arthritis, cancer, toothaches, sore throats, coughs and digestive upset.
It did gradually fall out of flavour but was still used for certain conditions especially in the fens right though the Victorian period. It was said that ‘an efficacious plaster for lumbago, a common Fen ill, was horseradish, grated and mixed with boiling water. This, applied immediately to the sufferer’s back, was an over-night cure. The resultant blister was treated the following day by removing the plaster, baking it in the oven until it was powdery, then mixing it with flour, the mixture being dusted over the blisters.’
It was also used to treat chilblains by wrapping the grated root around the effected finger or toe and wrapping it in lint. The leaves were also considered great for wound healing, reducing bloodless and reducing scarring. It was considered a cure for violent stomach cramps and young women who had been dallying in the bedroom before wedlock chewed on the leaves 3 times a day to remove any need for a rushed wedding.
A Boy or A Girl?
Horseradish was also used in the Fens to predict the sex of an unborn child. This was carried out by means of two thongs of horseradish, placed one each, under the pillow of the husband and wife. If the root under the husband’s pillow turned black first, it would be a boy; if the wife’s did so, the child would be a girl.
Horseradish is also one of the 5 bitter herbs of the Seder platter in the Jewish celebration of Passover. There is a Passover tradition in some Jewish households where you try and eat as much horseradish as you can in one bite because the more you can force into yourself, the sweeter a year you will have.
Another fascinating horseradish fact is that In 2008, researchers reported that they had developed a fire alarm for the deaf and hearing-impaired by harnessing the strong smell of horseradish. Ally ilisothiocyanate, the volatile oil which gives horseradish its strong smell, was extracted from the plant and used inside of the fire alarm. When the alarm was triggered, it sprayed the oil into the air instead of sounding an audible alarm. In case studies 13 out of 14 subjects woke up in less than two minutes, supporting the theory that the fire alarm would be effective.
We probably need to look at that 1640 date now. If anyone knows what the significance of it it please let me know. I’ll admit that The English Huswife of 1631 doesn’t have any reference that I can see but Samuel Pepys was drinking horseradish ale in 1664 so it must have been around a bit by then as a culinary herb as well as a medical one.
In the Complete City and Country Cook of 1732 its all over the book and not just for beef either but used as a vegetable in ragouts and grated over and added to a multitude of fish dishes. I must admit thought that it has dwindled down a little over time to just being the standard accompaniment for roast beef in the form of horseradish sauce. It does still appear in fish recipes but this is less usual in the UK.
Fish & Beef Equality
In my kitchen it works with both, I make my own horseradish sauce grated fresh root, cream and vinegar every Christmas to serve with a Christmas Eve heaped platter of latkes, thinly sliced medium rare beef and a selection of smoked fish. Another Christmas regular for me is smoked mackerel pate although I also make it all year.
Its a wonderful combination of smoked mackerel, horseradish, cream cheese, red onions, pickles and capers I serve it with smoked mussels and gooseberry chutney. I’m going to share with you the pate recipe now and you can dress it as you please. Just always be generous with the horseradish and make sure there is plenty of hot crisp toast.
Smoked Mackerel Pâté
1 pack smoked mackerel fillets or 1 smoked mackerel, skin removed and flesh flaked
1 pack cream cheese (200g)
2 tablespoons capers, chopped roughly
1 medium size dill pickle, chopped roughly
1 small red onion finely chopped
Juice of 1 small lemon
- Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix gently until you have a roughly homogenised paste
- Decant into a nice dish for the table, wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour for the flavours to meld together nicely
- Serve with hot, crisp toast
- I serve this with smoked mussels and gooseberry chutney and it is amazing but its also lovely in its naked state.
Garlands, Conkers and Mother-Die : British and Irish Plant-Lore – Roy Vickery
Some Folk Beliefs of the Fens – Enid M. Porter. Folklore Vol. 69, No. 2, June 1958 pp112-122
PORTER Enid. Cambridgeshire customs and folklore. Routledge, 1969
Dictionary of Plant Lore D.C. Watts
Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), a neglected medical and condiment species with a relevant glucosinolate profile: a review -Rosa Agneta • Christian Mo ̈llers • Anna Rita Rivelli
Caterina the Wise and Other Wondrous Sicilian Folk & Fairytales by Giuseppe Pitré, translated and edited by Jack Zipes
Italian Popular Tales by Thomas Frederick Crane edited and with an introduction by Jack Zipes
Italian Popular Tales by Thomas Frederick Crane
Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson, edited by Tom Jaine
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Cambridge World History of Food, Kenneth F. Kiple & Kriemhild Conee Ornelas
City & Country Cook, Charles Carter 1732
The Lady’s Assistant for Regulating & Supplying Her Table, Mrs Charlotte Mason, 3rd edition 1778 (original edition 1773)
The Art of Cookery Made Plain & Easy, Hannah Glasse, 1751
The Complete Housewife or Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion, E Smith 1773
The Experienced English Housekeeper, Elizabeth Raffald, 1786
A New System of Domestic Cookery, Maria Rundell 1810
The London Art of Cookery, John Farley, 1811
The Cook & Housekeeper’s dictionary, Mary Eaton, 1822
The Cook & Housewife’s Manual, Mrs Margaret Dods 1826
The French Cook, Louis Eustache Ude – 1829, 10th Edition with appendix
A New System of Domestic Cookery, Maria Rundell 1842
The Modern Cook, Charles Elmé Francatelli 1846
The Cooks Guide, Charles Elmé Francatelli, 1863
A Guide to Modern Cookery, A Escoffier 1907
The Modern Cook, Charles Elmé Francatelli 1911
Pot Luck or the British Home Cookery Book 1915 May Byron