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The crossed grafting of Lucio Alciati

Italy: An unusual alliance between potatoes and tomatoes

How to save ancient potato varieties from extinction? This is the question that the Associazione per la promozione, tutela e valorizzazione dell'antica patata Piatlina e della patata Ciarda della Valle Grana is trying to answer in an unusual way. In fact, Lucio Alciati, chairman of the association, is trying to support these potatoes with... beefsteak tomatoes!

According to Lucio Alciati "The work to rescue this local food heritage started over five years ago, when two samples of Piatlina and Ciarda plants were bought. The tubers were found in some historic local commercial farms, and thanks to this it was possible to obtain enough seeds to guarantee a minimum production for the survival of the plants."

"Subsequently, our new objective was to obtain a strong enough seed to restore the original vigour of the cultivar thanks to an alternative propagation method that was more sustainable economically."

The choice was a tomato plant - and the beefsteak variety in particular - on which Lucio Alciati tried grafting a potato plant, thus "inverting" something that had already been successful in 2009, when tomato plants were created on potato ones.

"The intention was to create seeds from this grafting so as to obtain a valid production for our small agriculture. Unfortunately, nothing blossomed. On the other hand, nature was able to surprise us, as on the axil there some tubercles formed that were very similar to ordinary potatoes. Now we will have to see if these "tubercles" will be able to form stronger potatoes."

Ciarda potatoes (Desirée stock) are ideal for making gnocchi, in fact less flour is needed than other varieties. Alciati adds, "The name derives from the red colour of the skin, but also because ' it does not give up easy' (in the Piedmontese mountain language, 'ciarda' means red as well as naughty). In fact, after harvesting, potatoes must ripen for three months in order to reach their intense taste, which then lasts until spring."

Piatlina potatoes have a white flesh and are ideal boiled, fried, mashed or in soups. "The variety was born out of a spontaneous graft in some ancient local crop and it was very popular in the Grana valley during the last century. Then it was substituted by more productive cultivars and hit by a virus too, because of the fact that it was only reproduced for companies without seeds in nursery gardens."

This is how one can go from grower to "custodian": "Today, thanks to the collaboration of many and to the rediscovery of ancient local flavours, the attempt to support these tubers seems possible, but it's not easy. This is the spirit of our Association - we welcome anyone with a suggestion or a proposal."

Associazione per la Promozione e Tutela dell’Antica Patata Piatlina e della Patata Ciarda della Valle Grana

Via Mistral 21
12020 Monterosso Grana (CN)
Twitter: @piatlinaciarda

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