Forgotten foods

Long read. I enjoyed it and might try growing some achocha!


I am a prepper and specifically choose both edible, beneficial, and medicinal plants… I have a few that are just aesthetically pleasing but eventually they will be replaced…
When push comes to shove people will steal all your crops but they would have to know what is edible and where some of it is… Different seasons means some stuff is just tubers, or edible flowers… prime example is roses.

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Elsieb, Achocha, Cyclanthera pedata, is extremely variable with crop needs. Many do not flower or set fruit until the days of autumn are too short. To date, I’ve had zero success growing it in Virginia, from multiple sources.

The article highlights some issues, but also lacked relevant data. In the top foods mentioned, potatoes were absent; millet was absent; pulse crops were not mentioned, even though these are a primary food source in India, and the article didn’t really address regional differences.

There are many crop researchers, including myself, who are looking into alternate crops as the climate changes. (See the thread on Apios, for example..) It’s a complicated picture. You have to match good production with dietary preferences or needs and environmental variables. Some plants do well but get local diseases or insect pests. Others are day length or temperature sensitive. Quinoa, Oca, Ullucus and many Andean crops will fail in warm climates; I’ve tried. Sometimes, one can find a selection of a plant which overcomes obstacles.

One example is Winged Bean, Psophocarpus tetragonolobus. Most only start to flower in September or October in the US, making them of little value in most of the US. However, daylength-neutral varieties are being selected. I grew a variety from Hunan, years ago, which set a lot of beans. The foliage is also edible.

Sagittaria, known as Water Potato, is very common as a starchy root crop in warm climates. I’ve grown the Chinese, large tubered, selection for years.

Virginia has become much hotter in the past 39 years I’ve been growing food plants. For the first time in my lifetime, I’m seeing beans, Phaseolus vulgaris, go sterile for many weeks, due to high day and night temperatures. Huge vines, great growth and flowering, and poor yields due to pollen death from heat.

On the flip side: It used to be impractical to raise Water Chestnuts, Eleocharis dulcis, here, in Virginia. The growing season was too short and it wasn’t hot enough to get decent yields. For the past several years, this is no longer the case.

Water Spinach, Ipomoea aquatica, also is producing more, due to week after week in the 90s F (32+ C).

More and more tropical and subtropical crops are becoming viable in a most unlikely place. Understanding the biology of food plants, their physiology, anatomy, etc. can provide insights to help solve potential roadblocks to success. Big agriculture is not likely to change anytime soon. Machinery is designed for certain crops, monocultural giant farms have replaced many small farms in the US. The behemoth farms change direction like the Titanic, slowly, if at all.

Even if, for example, the US were to grow millet as a food crop, there is no hulling infrastructure here to remove the seed coat. In other countries, millet is food, here it’s birdseed. Change people’s attitudes towards a crop, create demand and then expect farmers to profit from that demand, machinery designers to make tools. Create the new crop first, and one must teach a population about it, how to make it tasty and nutritious. All these variables, and then some, interact to create global food supplies and farming practices.

Our diets have changed wildly in very little geological time. Europeans knew nothing of corn, peppers, tomatoes, common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), Lima beans (P. lunatus), squash, potatoes and more before the Americas were discovered. So, it’s not as static as the article above presents. Quinoa, grown in Peru and the Pacific Northwest, is in Costco.

I do grow a large percentage of the food consumed here, vegetables, starches, some grains, root crops, fruits, etc. It takes a lot of work, and dedication. Over 400 varieties are juggled, not everything planted in a given year. Some years, the climate destroys certain crops. Other years, the same plants do great. Farmers need reliability. The current unstable climate trends are a real issue. Corn and soybeans are of particular concern, see USDA data
Diversity is not likely to solve unstable climate issues. One plans planting, culture and harvests based on expected conditions within “normal” boundaries and based on past weather data. Last year, 2020, almost all fruits were lost here due to climate, a first in my lifetime. Blueberries, Strawberries, apples, peaches, hardy kiwi, grapes, pears all broke dormancy two months early, due to a hot March (4+ weeks). Subfreezing, normal weather returned in April, killing off all fruit and flowers. A small planting of fall raspberries set fruit, but that was it. Was this a fluke? It’s all very challenging.


You really have to be able to delay gratification and tolerate frustration!

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Robert. Thanks for all the information. And you’ve prob saved my frustration of trying to grow achacho:). I have only 4 raised beds, so not much room for errors and then as spring progresses into summer all my neighbors trees leaf out and the shade increases.

“You really have to be able to delay gratification and tolerate frustration!” Oh yes! Words of a true gardener!:+1:

If you plant enough variety, something will do well. …mostly. Um… except the spring we had a tornado, which produced flat, sharp-edged hail which looked like flying saucers. The hail shredded everything and was my first incentive to making Kimchi; what am I gonna do with all this chopped up bok choy and nappa?!

Elsieb, glad to help! Gardening can be vexing enough, without plants having peculiar needs (troublemakers). Sounds like your limited sun, later in the year, would be better for other, more leafy things, like Swiss Chard, or lettuces.

I first grew Achocha when I was attending George Mason University and working in the greenhouse there. I planted Peruvian seed in the outdoor beds, around the greenhouse. My boss got quite irritated at the vines taking over everything and producing nothing by fall. Oh well, at least the Giant, 18 foot tall Peruvian (Choclo de Cuzco) corn was a hit.

Now, if I can just figure out how to keep the Wasabi plants happy during the summer. All winter, they look great in the greenhouse. When it gets hot, a slow spiral towards death, two varieties. Even if they’re moved outdoors to the shade, they’re in pain. Solutions keep popping into my head, followed by: “That’s a ridiculous amount of effort!” Followed by: “Is it?” With luck, these thoughts get replaced with the Addams Family theme song (original version).
Snap snap-neat
Snap snap-sweet
Snap snap-petite

Who said all that time, spent in front of the TV, as a child, was wasted? There were valuable coping skills being learned.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold

Market stall in Lima
Credit: TXMX 2