Monday, 9 February 2009

A Mouthful of Mauka

As lost crops go, few are more obscure than mauka (Mirabilis expansa).   I mean this is a crop that was unknown to science before 1965, though that's a bit like saying Columbus discovered America.  It's probably been cultivated for thousands of years.
Anyway, it's not the best known Andean root crop.  

Last year I managed to get hold of seeds of two varieties from CIP in Peru.  One variety failed to germinate, whilst the other, 208001, produced two small seedlings.  

Frank Van Keirsbilck managed to get a whole load more to grow.   His roots also grew much bigger than mine. I think mine got slightly stunted because I was growing them in pots.   Still, it wasn't a competition (was it?) and to grow a plant I've been wanting to meet for decades was very, very exciting.  The quality of my photography seems to be inversely correlated with the level of excitement I'm feeling at the time, hence the low-fi images presented here. I'll do a more extensive post on mauka some other time. 

About Christmas time the pots froze pretty much solid and the tops were killed.  As we've been having some more cold weather recently , I thought it was time to rescue the plants and eat the roots. I've cut off the top sections for replanting


Anyway, this evening we tasted a root for the first time.  It was good.  Very good, actually, with a pleasant blend of potato,turnip and chestnut flavours.  Not an acquired or peculiar taste, but a nice one.   I boiled the bits we tried for about 15 minutes.  I then put a bit of butter on them. We ate them, then we went "mmmmm".  You can't say mauka without saying "mmmmm". 

4 comments:

Ulrike said...

Golly, this is exciting. Can't wait to get my teety into a mauka root.

How fast do plants grow a usable root? Best in open ground like yacon or rather under cover?

Rhizowen said...

Hi Ulrike

The simple answer is I don't know, but I'm guessing they'll get to a reasonable size in a season. I think I would grow them on in pots, then plant out after the last frost. In the Andes they plant them very deep so that the stems become thickened and swollen. They eat these as well as the roots. As my plants were seedlings I didn't do this, although the stems did get thickened near the base. I will try it with the tops I saved from this year. I noticed a few adventitios shoot around the base, which will presumably develop into the swollen stems.
Mine were outside. They would probably be best in the open ground, earthed up. I noticed that the first frosts killed the yacon but left the mauka untouched. Good drainage and full sun is what they need.

Good luck

Levi said...

How were you able to get mauka from CIP? The person in charge of the germplasm bank told me Peru has a Andean Crops law that won't allow export to any outside nation?

Rhizowen said...

Hi Levi

Luckily I got hold of my seeds before that ban was imposed.

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