Thursday, 19 January 2012

Radix at Three - a retrospective

Looking at the calendar, I realise that Radix: The Blog has been going for an astonishing three years.  For those of you who have slogged through my prose, I expect it feels longer.

Due to work commitments over the next few months, it will be hard for me to post as often as I'd like, so I'm taking this opportunity to look back (not necessarily in anger) at the highs and lows of root crop exploration. And eat that cupcake.

Highs

  • Producing some decent crops of oca seeds which I have been able to distribute to others.
  • Getting said seeds to germinate, grow and produce an interesting range of new oca varieties.  I'm still waiting for that elusive day neutral one, but it can only be a matter of time.....

  • Setting up the Radix Root Crops Facebook page - I've learnt a lot from this kindly bunch of alternative root crop obsessives.


  • Obtaining seeds from the most northerly growing diploid hopniss plants in the USA (read: the world) - which may or may not yield something better than the average hopniss; time will tell.


  • Growing sweetpotatoes from seeds produced in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea.  OK, yields weren't great, but they grew.  



Lows

Losing virtually all my ocas - twice, thanks to illness and unusually cold weather. And my yacons and virtually any other frost tender roots.  Nearly dying myself didn't help much to improve my mood either.  Unlike George Michael, I wasn't required to give an emotionally charged statement to the thronging press as I left hospital.  I was quietly whisked back to Cornwall in a VW Polo.

The crushing disappointment of the underwhelming performance of yampah - previously considered contender for the carrot's crown. No longer.

Mashua - it grows well and yields abundantly here - I just can't overcome my aversion to the taste of it. Damn.

Ulluco - oh so pretty but - oh no - so temperamental.

So, I wonder what the next three years will bring?  One thing's for certain: the world of the unabashed rhizophile will continue to throw up challenges and delights, success and failure.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Cornwall's Tiny Little Oca Cook Off 2012

Belated Happy New Year.

Due to circumstances beyond my control (serious illness, cold snaps, congenital horticultural ineptitude), we haven't had the chance to eat very many ocas over the last few years.  It's clearly high time to right this appalling transgression of the natural order of things. Conservation through consumption - that's my motto.

So when I was feeling rather peckish the other day, my thoughts turned to the recently lifted oca crop; bake off programmes seem to fill the airwaves these days -  I thought I'd stage one of my own.  Reaching into my characteristically disorganised oca store, I grabbed the nearest and largest tubers available - the ones which the voles, mice, rats and other assorted rodents hadn't yet reduced to fragments. It turned out these were varieties I got from Frank van Keirsbilck over in Belgium, although some of them were raised from seed I sent him.

I gave them a quick wash and popped them into the oven.  Before that, I took these farewell pictures, which catch their comely proportions quite well.  I suspect that the long, mild autumn gave them plenty of time to bulk up.

Flesh colour varied according to variety, with the large one above being white, despite the colour of its skin; the pale yellow ones were yellow (d'oh) and  Frank's excellent variety 'Pink Dragon' (far right) also had yellow flesh, with dark red staining.





None of them were overpoweringly acidic as is sometimes the case with ocas - they all tasted very pleasant.  There were differences in texture, with the big stubby one having a slightly more floury texture than the others; the long pale ones were almost buttery in texture.  Others more competent than I are exploring the delights of oca cuisine - check out Carl's recipe for warm oca salad.

Although oca was introduced to Europe in the 19th century as a potential replacement for blight prone potatoes, I think it has its own distinctive taste and a bold, attention-grabbing appearance.  I reckon it makes very good eating and fits well into contemporary foodways here. If we can just knock a few months off the production cycle, we'll have ourselves an excellent new carbohydrate source and an eye-catching one at that.  The Radix quest for a day neutral oca continues; you can be part of it.
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