Hot on the Tracks of Seneca Horseradish

The spicy roots growing here today are directly related to the horseradish of Seneca’s founding, having been passed through generations as root cuttings to friends and family and whomever.




(This story first appeared in the September/October 2012 issue of Nebraska Life Magazine)


WHEN THE WINTER of 1887 hit and construction of the Burlington Railroad through western Nebraska ground to a halt, the town of Seneca began where the rails ended.

Construction resumed come spring, and Seneca sprouted like the gardens its new residents planted. They grew potatoes, corn and rye, and shipped their surplus on those same rails to eastern markets. To add some zing to their root cellars, they also planted horseradish.

The spicy roots growing here today are directly related to the horseradish of Seneca’s founding, having been passed through generations as root cuttings to friends and family and whomever.

In early October, members of the Seneca Methodist Church grind horseradish root until they’re in tears. Then, they grind more.

Tears of joy flow when visitors to the Seneca Methodist Church Bazaar load up on gallons of the ground root, sugar and vinegar mixture used to top Nebraska prime rib far beyond our borders. Its uses are unlimited, like being spread on sandwiches, or mixed into omelettes or salad dressings; but the famous Sandhillsgrown Seneca horseradish is a rare commodity that for most of the year is harder to come by than a Sandhills monkey.

“Last year we made 120 jars,” said Nadene Andersen. Her roots are deep here, having been born just two miles from Nebraska’s horseradish capital. She lives seven miles north of Seneca today with her husband, Dwayne, and the annual fundraiser and the Andersen’s anniversary share the same month. Although she said she would have to check the church minutes to be certain, she believes the bazaar has taken place for at least 25 years.

“Most everyone here used to grow horseradish,” Andersen said. She doesn’t grow it herself, and says not many of Seneca’s 40 or fewer residents do today. But a few people have discovered the secret patch growing wild on an old railroader’s homestead, and people bring it in from Thedford and Mullen.

Andersen helps clean, peel, and cut up the root. “We do it outside to avoid the tears,” Andersen said. “Then, Rick Licking takes care of it with his electric grinder.”

The population of Seneca will increase 10-fold as hungry folks attend the all-you-can-eat church fundraiser famous for the limited quantity of prized horseradish for sale, and for the eight 20-pound turkeys that when roasting send a pleasurable aroma through the Loup River Valley.

We don’t know if Harry Truman tried any horseradish when he visited Seneca during his 1948 presidential campaign, but Andersen believes everyone else should.

They start serving at 11 a.m. MST and go until they’re out of turkey, Andersen said.

“The horseradish, it’s hot. Really hot. It won’t last long,” she added.

In 2012, the Seneca Methodist Church Bazaar took place at the newly refurbished Seneca Auditorium, on Oct. 28. For more information, call (308) 639-3251.


(This story first appeared in the September/October 2012 issue of Nebraska Life Magazine)

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