Aurora @ Island Dreaming
Two years ago I was given two pink Oca (Oxalis tuberosa) tubers. I was told that they tasted
like lemony potatoes and were quite good boiled, but my friend was more concerned with
their pest resistance and yield than culinary applications. I had been given two tubers and planted them out in a small pot on the patio. Triffid like foliage ensued and died back in late summer. They are attractive, branching plants with trefoil like foliage and beautiful flowers if they reach stage, which unfortunately they didn't. I tipped out the pot in September to find a few handfuls of grape sized tubers, certainly nothing to be enthused about.
I kept the tubers to have one last go this year, this time in the open ground of our allotment, placing them about 40 cm apart and 10 cm deep. They were very slow to spring up, shoots finally appeared at the beginning of June. Once the foliage does appear they spread quickly and need to be earthed up like potatoes. They need a long growing season and ours never flowered. Tuber formation is apparently dependent upon day length - when I lifted one of the plants in October after the foliage had died back, there were a handful of small tubers and I thought they had failed. One month of shortening days later, we brought home several pounds of pretty pink tubers varying in size from a walnut to a small egg!
They are keeping well in the salad drawer the fridge. Small Oca roasted whole become squishy and extra lemony...and slightly insect grub like if I am to be completely honest. This may put you off, or you may want to use it as a selling point to young children who like to pretend that spaghetti is worms and tapioca is frogspawn. Larger roasted Oca resemble lemony waxy potatoes. I have added them to stews with other roots vegetables and they retain the delicate lemon flavour. Their crunchy waxy texture is similar to water chestnuts when sliced and added to a stir fry. They are delicious and very versatile.
This year we will be planting a whole bed of them in place of potatoes. Being native to the Andes, they are relatively resistant to UK pests and diseases, only a handful of them were damaged by worms last year compared with our decimated potato crop.The tubers can be left in the ground over winter, or stored at home in cool conditions and replanted in spring. I am a lazy gardener, or at least time constrained; and Oca look after themselves and were one of our few successes this year. If you can source the tubers I recommend giving them a go.