When it comes to Christmas, I'm a bit of a "bah, humbug!" sort of a bloke. I am however, a fervent believer in recycling; this extends not to just glass bottles, cardboard and milk cartons, but to previous blog posts - no point reinventing the wheel or torturing untold thousands of oca seedlings to come up with the same old tired prose. Due to a period of retrenchment (some of which has been spent with a trenching spade in hand), I haven't been able to give either our plot or this blog the attention they deserve. I'm hopeful that I will get back on track next year with more regular posts and some interesting developments. In the meantime, I offer up my Radix Alphabetical Advent Calendar, with the letters of the alphabet standing in for corresponding dates in the month. Beat that, Alan Turing!
Today is December 1st, so I give you A and the first root in the Radix lexicon: aandegopin.
P.S. I'm really worried about Christmas Eve....
Monday, 1 December 2014
Wednesday, 20 August 2014
Here are my ocas - the great, great, great, great grandchildren of the original varieties. They're still going strong, or at least they appear to be if the above image is to be believed. So what effect has being Generation Six had on my charges?
But before all that, an extensive caveat. I'd like to be able to say that I've made a significant breakthrough in breeding a ravishingly beautiful, delicious, dayneutral oca. Maybe I have, but due to conflicting pressures and responsibilities, I haven't been been able to devote anything like enough time to the methodical recording of tuber yields. Something or other has got in the way every time - frost damage, voles, vine weevils, midnight ambulance rides to hospital - that kind of thing. That and the more humdrum exigencies of earning money.
Proper breeders are supposed to apply some sort of directional selection pressure to their charges. I've done very little of this, I must confess. There are two reasons: firstly I started with only a few clones and I thought it wise to conserve as much variation as possible before culling ruthlessly.
Secondly, I'm a softie at heart and don't like to institute a reign of terror on my charges - I'm not Ivan the Terrible, I'm Rhizowen the lily-livered.
- Oca seedlings are variable - leaf, stem, and tuber colour, pubescence, height, you name it, it varies.
- Oca seedlings generally flower much more readily than commercially available varieties.
- There are many more of the short and mid-styled varieties than long styled ones.
- Oca seeds germinate fairly easily and grow quite fast; they can go from seed to seed outside in one season here in Cornwall.
- Tubers from oca seedlings are perfectly edible and not always tiny, knobbly and misshapen.
- Oca pods require careful management - when they pop, those seeds don't stop.
- Corollary of the above - oca volunteers will appear where you probably don't want them.
- Voles and other rodents love to eat oca tubers.
- Unlike the voles, I hate harvesting oca tubers in the late autumn when our soil is cold, sticky and squelchy.
Bearing in mind that I started with so few varieties, the overriding question is this:
Until such time as the above dream team materialises, I will ponder and ruminate. So here's my final question, which neither Bible scholars nor oca breeders have yet been able to answer definitively: will the mistakes of the "breeder" be visited unto the seventh generation? I'll let you know - next year.
Sunday, 1 June 2014
|Mauka Man, hero.|
Half the battle with novel foods is figuring out how to prepare them. As we normally harvest root crops in the winter, sitting roots out in grey, wan light isn't likely to effect much positive change. Sunshine in May (when we get it) is much more intense. Clearing out the mauka bed in the spring has therefore given me the ideal opportunity to follow the preparation method favoured in mauka's Andean homeland. Not that I planned it that way. Let's just call it a fortuitous failure.
|400g of prime mauka flesh|
|Pink below the skin|
|Not dead yet - adventitious bud appearing|
As I was boiling the chunks, I remembered something from Lost Crops of the Incas about the cooking water being used as a drink. After I'd fished out the cooked pieces, I allowed the cloudy liquid to cool. I tried it (gingerly at first) and can reveal to the world that this beverage is nothing like potato water in terms of palatability. Contrary to my expectations, it was sweet and pleasant, with none of the gritty starchiness I had expected. It seems that this is a nice drink in its own right and could probably be fermented into something interesting too. Or maybe the liquid could be used as a base for soups. Could quaffing mauka-ade become some sort of liquid sacrament to the ritual of mauka flesh preparation? Stick in a few songs and a bit of inebriation and Mauka Man would make a perfect successor to John Barleycorn.
|Tasty enough, but less than the sum of its parts|
I hastily cooked some vegetables from the rack and plonked the mauka chunks on top. To be honest, the firm texture of the mauka did not combine particularly well with the vegetable mush I created, although it was all very palatable. Slightly chastened, I kept some of the cooked mauka chunks back and the following evening I fried them quickly with a little bit of oil, some herbs from the garden and a pinch of salt.
As we took in a DVD (Hunger Games, as it happens) and ate our mauka chunks, I rather lost concentration on the film; savouring the delightful finger food that pan-fried mauka proved to be was a major distraction. Still, any bow-toting heroine who is named after Sagittaria latifolia gets my approval by default.
To one whose palate has been corrupted by a lifelong diet of Angel Delight, pot noodles and fish fingers, I consider this to be excellent fare. In fact, of all the Lost Crops roots I have tried, this is my favourite. With its firm flesh and sweet taste, it is a pleasure to chew. I bet it would make great chips. If my rudimentary preparation methods are anything to go by, cannier cooks than I will easily come up with numerous ingenious ways to incorporate it into the western diet.
|A glass of mauka-ade proved unexpectedly potable|