I was not actually being very correct last time when I wrote that my tuberous adventures in 2014 were entirely restricted to sweet potato cultivation. There is one other rather exotic crop that I got my hands on this year. In fact, this is probably one of the most exotic tubers out there, eclipsing the humble sweet potato by lunar magnitudes. I am speaking, of course, of mirabilis expansa aka mauka, miso or chago, an Andean root vegetable that is as deliciousy mysterious as its multiple names suggest.
Since my ambitions in growing Andean root vegetables far outweigh my patience in actually acquiring the plant material, I have recently gone ahead and purchased Lost Crops of the Incas, the 1989 standard work for aspiring cultivators of unusual and long-forgotten plants from the Andes. The book contains some intriguing facts about mauka. Believed to have been a staple crop of the Incas, mauka was completely unknown to scientists (a fate that many an animal and plant species would probably benefit from) until the beginning of the 1960s, when it was found being cultivated in remote parts of Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. Growing at altitudes above 2700 meters, it is said to be particularly tolerant of harsh conditions, which of course makes it a promising plant to try in more Northern latitudes. Its alleged ability to grow to mythical proportions over the course of one or sometimes multiple seasons (it appears to be a perennial though its frost tolerance is uncertain) has inspired some people to describe it as some kind of Andean cassava. Frank Van Keirsbilck told me they tend to weigh 800g to 2kg after one growing season in his garden. As most tuber crops, mauka is believed to be very nutritious, and, more importantly perhaps, is also reported to be delicious. Descriptions on the internet place the taste somewhere in between potato, parsnip, and sweet potato. Now, these just happen to be three of my favourite foods in the world, so there was plenty of reason here to make me very excited indeed.
|The two underwhelming tubers... on a piece of A4...|
|The 2015 mauka babies|