The potato, a staple in the Chilean diet, has long been the subject of numerous traditions and superstitions. Nowhere is this truer than in Chiloé, where potatoes must be sown during a waning moon in August or September, unless large macho specimens are required for seeds, in which case they are sown at the full moon. Neighbours help each other in every aspect of cultivation, a communal labouring tradition known as a minga. There are three main mingas: quechatún, the turning of the earth; siembra de papa, the planting; and cosecha or sacadura, the harvest.
Among the mythology and traditional customs associated with the potato are “magic stones” (piedras cupucas), which are found on Cerro Chepu, a hill near Ancud in Chiloé. Believed to have been hidden by witches (brujos), these porous silicone stones are carefully guarded until the potato plants bloom, and then the flowers are placed on them and burnt as a sacrifice.
Another potato myth holds that a small silver lizard, el Lluhay, feeds on potato flowers, and anyone who can catch one is guaranteed good fortune. Still another maintains that a maggot, la coipone, which lives in the potato root ball, will prevent babies from crying when placed under their pillows.
Mash it up: popular and traditional potato dishes
Chuchoca Mashed potato mixed with flour and pig fat, plastered onto a long, thick wooden pole (chuchoquero) and cooked over an open fire.
Colao Small cakes made from potato, wheat, pork fat and crackling, cooked in hot embers.
Mallo de papas Potato stew.
Mayo de papas Peeled, boiled potatoes mashed with onions, chillies, pepper and pig fat.
Mayocan A potato, seaweed and dried-shellfish stew traditionally eaten for breakfast.
Milcao Small cakes of grated and mashed potato that are steamed like dumplings, baked or deep fried.
Pan de papas Baked flat round cakes of mashed potato mixed with flour, eggs and pig fat.
Papas rellenas Sausage-shaped rolls of mashed potato mixed with flour and filled with meat or shellfish.
Pastel de papas A baked dish with alternating layers of mashed potato and meat or shellfish topped with more potato.