Saturday 23 February 2008
If you're thinking "What the heck is that?"... that's what I thought when I first saw what appear to be small rainbow-coloured potatoes on the Real Seed Catalogue's website, though I think actually my first thought was "I've gotta have some of that whatever it is!"
All I can really tell you about ulluco is that it's a South American tuber, grown and used in a similar way to potatoes even though they're not in any way related. It's not a well known crop in Europe. The only book on my shelves which has any significant information about it (three pages) is Simon Hickmott's Growing Unusual Vegetables.
What arrived in the package were several genuinely multicoloured tubers of varying sizes. Some were pretty small, but the packet says they will still grow into full sized plants. The small ones are all yellow, though one has deep pink mottling on it. Two of the larger ones are a solid orangey-pink with a dusting of dark pink spots, while the other two are a random swirl of muted yellow with deep emerald green, plus pink spots.
I left the tubers in their envelope and stashed them away in a cool dark cupboard for several weeks, but as advised I checked them for sprouts and by the beginning of this week they had got some definite signs of activity and I had to move them to a lighter place before they get too long and spindly. It's a little weird because they don't have such obvious 'eyes' as potatoes, and the sprouts seem to emerge out of nowhere. What's even weirder is that the colours are jumbled up. The yellow ones have bright pink sprouts and the orangey-pink ones and green ones have yellow sprouts with pink tips.
They come with the warning "BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN WEEDING as they flop all over the place and are often attached to the ground where you least expect." Fair enough. Apart from that, though, they're supposed to be reasonably easy to grow and to taste similar to potatoes.
Real Seeds are currently selling ulluco only as an experimental crop because it's not yet clear how best to grow it in the UK climate. It needs a long growing season and may only produce small tubers by the time the autumn frosts arrive. This is very much a voyage of discovery.
I know there are a few other bloggers who have already found and purchased some of these magic tubers so it'll be interesting to compare notes and ideas.