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Usually, I decide which varieties to release based on my estimation of their merits. On occasion, I decide to offer something based on popular demand. This is one of those cases. I shared pictures of Calawah with members of the Kenosha Potato Project and got a lot of requests to trade for this variety. My only reservation is that I don’t have a lot of experience with it yet, but our customers have a pretty high tolerance for being on the cutting edge! This potato is definitely a curiosity.
Calawah was grown from seeds of potato breeder Tom Wagner’s variety Curt Schilling. Curt Schilling was selected from seeds of Solanum curtilobum, a lightly domesticated Andean pentaploid species. S. curtilobum is often grown at higher altitudes than common tetraploid potatoes and has some frost tolerance. As I understand it, the seeds were open pollinated. In this case, it appears that there was probably a chance cross to a red variety with yellow flesh, since these are not traits normally found in Solanum curtilobum.
There are a number of features that make this variety interesting, but it is probably more attractive to breeders than as a main crop variety. It has foliage similar to Solanum acaule, which is thought to be one of the parent varieties of S. curtilobum. (S. curtilobum is thought to be S. juzepczukii x tetraploid S. andigenum and S. juzepczukii is S. acaule x diploid S. andigenum.) The leaves are small and the plants are low growing. They also survived here well into winter, displaying some frost resistance. The tubers are small – about 2 to 3 inches, red with pronounced yellow eyes. They are very dense and the skin is thick and chewy. Flavor is good, running a little to the bitter side. S. curtilobum has high glykoalkaoids and this variety is probably on the high side, although bitterness is proportional to glykoalkaloid content, so the fact that this is palatable means that it is probably safe enough to eat. You might take it slow at first to make sure that it doesn’t cause any digestive discomfort. It hasn’t for us.
The tubers stored like rocks, with no sprouting or softening. The plants set a good amount of seed, although they appear to be male infertile. That just means that they will need a pollinator if you want to produce seed. If you are interested in trying to capture some of these traits in crosses with other varieties or just want to grow something a bit on the wild side, this potato is worth a try.
Five small tubers.