Amazing Amaranth

amaranth headLast week our consulting agronomist came by, took a look, and said our amaranth was ready to harvest. (The birds already knew this – they’ve been busy helping themselves the past couple of weeks). A slight shake of a catkin-like head brought down a cascade of tiny seeds (the little yellow specks in the photo above). And such tiny seeds! How many plants will it take to make a pound of this gluten-free- -pseudocereal-with-eight-essential-amino-acids, I wonder? It also makes me realize why amaranth is not a popular crop here. It takes the same amount of land, watering, weeding and fumigating that a crop of barley or wheat takes, with much less payoff (except nutrition-wise). Still, it has been an absolute delight these past six months to watch this beautiful plant go through its stages as we glanced out our windows, and I will certainly miss the sight of it next year, when ho-hum corn or potatoes will be back. Mike scarecrpw

So on a very cold day (about 50 degrees; the Andean winter is upon us) Jose María – who plants our field and whose harvest this is – came by and we followed the agronomist’s instructions: cut off the catkin-heads and put them in a sack, trying not to shake too many seeds onto the ground. Lay out the heads on a tarp for several days to dry in the sun. The three of us set to work with clippers, but we kept stopping to show off the most spectacular plants, and take photos. JM w headThat’s quinoa behind Jose Maria, which won’t be ready for a couple of weeks, if the birds leave anything. Too bad we’ll miss it. For that harvest the agronomist said he will bring a threshing machine. The amaranth was not enough to warrant a machine, and in fact, in only took us about an hour to finish the harvest.closeup harvest


Here’s what’s left of the field, with quinoa on the left and sangorache, another form of amaranth, on the right, still waiting for harvest.field stripped

While the seed heads await their shaking/threshing.

amaranth I promised Michael’s recipe for quinoa, but all I can say at this point is that he made paella (without measuring a thing) the famous Spanish dish, using quinoa instead of the usual arborio rice. The result was tasty, but not as good, I think, as with rice. But we’ll keep trying! Thanks again for all who sent recipes.paellaToday is our last day in Cañar for 2014. It takes about three non-stop days to strip the interior of the house of its character and color – hangings, throws, pillows, rugs, blankets, bedding – wash and store everything in trunks and bags and big plastic containers in a storeroom. That’s my job, along with many trips into town to take care of last details, such as submitting a formal request to the phone company to reduce my Internet service for six months. (Didn’t get it right the first time; was sent home to compose another.) On the last day, I cover the bookcases, kitchen shelves, dining table and living room with cloths- old sheets and the like. Michael’s job is to shut down the mechanics of the house – pumps, gas, water, hot water heaters, espresso machine – and to put up the shutters that cover every window and door. The house grows dark, the only light from the interior patio. It’s time to leave.

laundry patioP1060151

And some final farewells, one from Mama Michi and her daughter Mariana, one of our scholarship women who graduated yesterday from the University of Riobamba in public health.P1060157

Our final act is rather ignominious: we call a taxi to take us to the Pan American, where we stand beside the road with our bags, waiting for bus to Guayaquil to pass by. Others are waiting too, and it’s sometimes a scramble to get on and find seats. If there are none, we scramble off and wait for the next bus. And if there are no buses, as happened one Sunday, we hire a taxi at the last minute. We’ve developed a technique: I jump on fast and grab the seats while Michael stays to see the bags stashed underneath by the driver’s assistant. Only then can we relax into the four-hour ride to Guayaquil, where we’ll get a midnight plane to Miami, then another to Chicago, then finally arriving in Portland 18 hours later.

It’s been extremely cold and windy in Cañar these past couple of weeks, and we can’t wait for a Portland summer. Regards to all, until next January (unless I get inspired to write about Portland). In the meantime, I invite all to stay in touch.

Guayaquil airport, 8:10 PM, June 24, 2014.




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7 thoughts on “Amazing Amaranth

  1. So glad to hear about your amaranth, and that Mariana graduated in public health!

  2. I remember the cold of Canar. One early morning I woke up to see two shivering dogs perched on the back of pigs for a bit of heat. That night I tentatively stuck out my hand from my mummy bag to read a couple of pages by kerosene lamp before it got too cold and I had to put my other hand up. Canar is a lot more prosperous than in 1997, but the cold has not changed

  3. Great to hear of your transition. As you know, the northwest (Portland/Seattle)has experienced an amazing spring and now summer. Produce is ahead of regular schedule and we’re all high from what the northwest offers. We also know the bountiful beautiful, through a different lens, of Cañar province as well as the whole highland area. Great to re-experience it through your eyes, words and perceptions. Abrazos, Eduardo

  4. I loved this accounting of the harvest. Thank you.
    I remember well my one and only night with you in the chilly Andean air.
    The brisk walk before bedtime to heat up, then snuggled
    under a foot of quilts in the tidy bed. Slept like a baby.
    It’s one of my favorite memories!
    See you in Portland!
    Love, Char

  5. ¡Que hermosa cosecha! Me alegra verlos tan contentos como siempre. Y que deliciosa su paella con quinoa… ¡Por un instante me trasladé a Ecuador y compartí ese momento!
    Abrazos a Michael, Guido.

  6. I love Michael’s new art installation (the scarecrow). Congratulations to Mariana – what a wonderful way to end your time there this spring. I hope you’ve had a very happy homecoming in Portland.

  7. Amaranth is an ancient grain and has been cultivated in Ecuador for over 5,000 years, ditto for Quinoa.

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