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Lupines Between Riobamba and Chimborazo

Splashes of color from quinoa and chochos.  (Near Otavalo)

Ecuador – Since Bluebonnets were not part of the Mississippi Delta’s natural landscape, I never knew much about them. I always admired photos that showcased their lovely sprays of blue that blanketed landscapes different than my own. We had countless lovely compensations – like the delicate pink buttercups and ———— and I draw a blank! Now that I reach back to recall what natural species blanketed the landscape, I realize that more often than not, it was an altered landscape. The Mississippi Delta ‘Flatlands’ were combed with digitally-straight rows of cotton – or were blanketed with wheat or soybeans or rice or even grain sorghum!

Ready-to-harvest Cotton – Clarksdale, Mississippi

Soybeans near Clarksdale Mississippi

Deciduous hardwoods lined streams and lakes or provided borders between properties. Willows sprang up like weeds and grew as fast.  Large tracts of hardwoods provided food and cover for the native flora and fauna and anchored healthy patches of that much-altered landscape.  I recalled many vistas, including the water-loving cypress trees, but remembered no wildflower vistas as lovely as those Bluebonnets.

Near Yazoo City Mississippi

Recently Linda Leinen and Steve Schwartzman both showcased the Bluebonnets in their posts, and as always, I connected those closeup images to the Lupines that grow in Ecuador’s Andean highlands. I consulted a few of my old images, then inspected my friends’ recent posts.  I wondered if their Bluebonnets also produced an edible bean like their Chocho cousins in the Andes.

Packed with 40% protein, chocos are sold in clear plastic tubs and are ready to eat . The cost of this particular tub? $1.00

From Wilkipedia: “Lupinus_mutabilis…The bone-white seed contains more than 40% protein and 20% fat and has been used as a food by Andean people since ancient times, especially in soups, stews, salads and by itself mixed with boiled maize. Like other legumes, its protein is rich in the essential amino acid lysine. The distribution of essential fatty acids is about 28% linoleic acid (omega-6) and 2% linolenic acid (omega-3)…”

Mature quinoa with a few lupine (Chocho) flowers… (Near Otavalo Ecuador)

Steve and Linda are both tireless and diligent researchers and are known to hang with a challenge until the correct answer is found.  I suspected that they might help shed light on this lupine-bean mystery.   Steve recently did this with the quote I attributed to Francis Bacon, and he spent time trying to find out why the credit often goes there, instead of – well, it’s best to switch to Steve’s words:
“The quote with which you began struck me as too modern to be by Francis Bacon, even if (or because!) so many website attribute the words to that figure from the Renaissance, who wrote: “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” Another group of websites attribute the words to a woman of the 20th century, Marie Beynon Ray: http://www.thekansan.com/article/20100303/NEWS/303039962

Thank you, Steve; it is a very sweet article about Marie Beynon Ray, described as being 50 years ahead of her time; and she lives on through only two of her quotes.
Steve followed up with a second comment which stated: ” Since my comment to you I did some more searching. I used Google Books, on the assumption that things in print are more likely to be correct than what appears on the Internet. The earliest I could find the Marie Beynon Ray quotation was 1953, in Forbes Magazine. Right above it was a quotation by Francis Bacon, so that may have been the cause of the widespread misattribution.”
Thank you again, Sherlock Steve!

Now back to the subject of Bluebonnets and Lupines!

“Chocho” legumes sweep the Andean landscape.

Linda also contributed interesting feedback; they both agree that these beauties are indeed cousins, but they’ve never heard of using the soybean-like beans as a source of food.

Linda added: ” “Yes.” The seeds of the bluebonnets do look much like soybeans. As to their edibility, there’s this, from an answer to a question on the Lady Bird Johnson wildflower site:
“[Bluebonnets] face some challenges. They are eaten by a few animals, but not really by large herbivores. Lupinus spp. seeds do contain alkaloids that are poisonous if eaten in large quantities.
Cattle and horses avoid eating bluebonnets almost completely. Deer will eat them in times of environmental stress when they are one of the few options left to eat. Sheep and goats, however, find them quite tasty and will clear a pasture of them.
A few insects also eat the plant. For instance, the bluebonnet is larval food host for Northern Cloudywing, Gray Hairstreak, Henry’s Elfin, Painted and American Lady, and Orange Sulphur butterflies. (Caterpillar Food Plants for Central Texas by Mike Quinn, Texas Parks and Wildlife).”
My country friends will make jelly from nearly anything — agarita, prickly pear, beautyberry, dewberry — but I’m not aware of anyone ever making bluebonnet jelly. I’ll have to make some inquiries, and find out why. “

Volunteer Quinoa in Chocho field – near Lago San Pablo/Otavalo

In Ecuador, these cute little whitish seeds are called Chochos and often mixed with tomatoes, onions and lemon juice to make ‘Ceviche de Chochos.’
Extra high in protein, it’s an important food source along with quinoa, which often bunks with it in the Andean landscape. I marveled that it seems to grow well here, and many people eat it without fear of being poisoned, yet it’s very-close cousins are described as dangerous to eat in other countries. Perhaps it’s like tomatoes and potatoes are safe to eat, yet their cousin the nightshade is dangerous…

Wild Tomato Blossoms

After learning all of this new information, I asked a friend from the Andes if she knows how to cook chochos… She gave me a sideways glance, and without words she smiled – almost an evil smile. Perhaps she feared that I was about to ask her to prepare them!

She inhaled before explaining and then stated that they harvest the beans (while the husks/shells are still green) and then shell them. They are cooked all day in salted water, then they cool over night. The next day they are drained and placed in a big sack and soaked in water for two days… Usually they took them to a fresh-water stream for this process.  Throughout those days, the beans are washed a lot, and the water drains through the sack. Then they are ready for use!

Traditionally they are made into the tomato/lemon juice ceviche, but can be cooked in a tomato sauce or cooked with pork.  When I asked if they ground them like corn for tamales and humitas, she laughed and said, ‘No.’ (I discovered, however, that it is often ground into flour!)

Another friend said that she did not know why they are rinsed for so many days, but she suspected it was to prevent bacterial contamination.  She also stated that the beans are placed in a bag and put in a stream.  “For two days?” I asked.

“NO!” she exclaimed, “-for about eight days! – and then they are cooked,  left to cool overnight, then drained and cooked again.”

That one-dollar tub of Chochos is worthy of a higher price!

Linda shared an article from 2013 about Chochos:
Is Chocho the New Quinoa_ This Ancient South American Legume is Being Heralded as the Next Big Superfood – Nutrition Unplugged.

Quinoa: lovely for the eyes, healthy for the body!

Quinoa definitely reached Superfood Status, and perhaps one day its Lupine bunkmate will as well. The ripened heads of quinoa always remind me of the ready-for harvest fields of grain sorghum in Mississippi and Louisiana.

From 2012 – Quinoa fields near Cayambe Ecuador (Photo by Marie Groff)

A special thanks to Linda and Steve! See Linda’s bluebonnet post here: Working on Easter

and Steve’s here: Not a Good Year for Bluebonnets

and here: Bluebonnets Redeem Themselves

For the first time in a long time, I’m away from home without my paints. Otherwise I might have painted a small lupine/bluebonnet study for the final image. Let’s practice using our powers of imagination and picture that image here instead of this photo of a petite-but-lovely little blue wildflower that dots the Ecuadorian landscape:


If anyone has first-hand experience in the chocho-making process, please share your story/experience!

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