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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Wapato

Yesterday I had the opportunity to harvest wapato for the second time.  I have been growing them in tanks for two seasons now.  Last fall I had a small harvest having planted only three small tubers at the beginning of the season.  This year's harvest was more sizable; still not too many meals worth, but if I compare the labor input to harvest ratio I'd say they were quite worthwhile.  Other than occasionally adding some water or manure to the tanks there was really not much work involved.  Also, harvesting was more fun than work.  I just stirred up the muck with a long handled garden tool and then collected the wapatos as they floated to the surface. 
   To the left is a portion of my wapato harvest next to a few sunchoke tubers.  You'll notice that there is quite a range in sizes.  The large egg sized tubers all came from a larger tank of water that was only lightly populated with wapato this season and the muck they grew in was predominantly very well rotted manure with a little dirt mixed in.  The smaller tubers came from a smaller half whiskey barrel where they were very crowded and grew in a predominantly mineral soil muck with a little manure mixed in.  There were also some rocks mixed in and they caused a number of the wapato to be flatted on one side where they grew against a rock.  Needless to say well rotted manure seems to be the better choice for growing larger wapato.  All of my wapato are the same clone so genetic variability is not coming into play here.
   I wish I had taken some pictures during the growing season because the wapatos appeared morphologically different from each other from one tank to another depending on the type of muck they grew in.  The wapato in rocky mineral soil had leaves that were incredibly narrow, while a small planting I had in pure well rotted steer manure where incredibly wide and gigantic.  They didn't even look like the same species let alone clones.  That was pretty fun.  At one point I added some chicken manure to the whiskey barrel where the narrow leaved wapatos where growing in the rocky mineral soil and within a week the leaves were growing large and wide.  The chicken manure was actually pretty fresh and didn't seem to burn them at all.  I guess they are just very nitrogen hungry plants.

   Last year when I harvested my first wapatos I peeled part of them and cooked the rest with their skin on.  Despite everything I have read telling me their skin would be bitter, I found that when boiled the bitterness was not a major factor in any of them.  The only notable difference was that those with the skin still on had a little more texture.  Last winter I had the opportunity to try the asian version of the wapato which is traditionally eaten for Chinese new year (so I've read).  I found that its skin was quite bitter even after cooking.  This makes me believe that the reputation of the latter has been inappropriately transferred to our native counterpart.  Don't get me wrong, our native wapato does have some bitterness to it.  I tried a peeled wapato raw and it was almost good save for the undesirable level of bitterness.  Basically what I'm trying to get at here is that if I were going to cook the asian cousin I would peel it, but for the wapato I think it's a waste of energy.  Note:  My opinion is based upon my experience with my clone of wapato.  Maybe others are more bitter.  Considering that most of the info I've found on the internet about bitter skin seems to come from people who are simply regurgitating the same information over and over rather than sharing their own personal observations, I'm going to say that based off my experience I would recommend trying wapato cooked with the skin on.  A nice scrub is all they really seem to need.  If you have a nice abrasive scrubber a significant amount of skin scrubs off anyway.  See the above picture which is the same wapatos from the first picture post-scrub.
   I don't want to talk about the flavor or texture of wapato.  If you search the internet you can find lots of references saying they taste like potatoes, chestnuts, a little nutty, etc.  Maybe these things are a bit true, but at the end of the day wapato is not any of those foods and despite some similarity in flavor and texture it really has its own flavor and texture that can not be accurately envisioned if described as tasting like other foods which it is not.  To me wapato tastes like a good source of palatable starchy calories.  A very important part of a healthy varied diet.