Book VII, Chapter III
Of the aje [yam] and its cultivation, another of the Indians’ main delicacies and sustenance, and how it is sown and harvested.
Translated by Max Eliot ’21
In this Island of Hispaniola and on all the other islands, and through much of the Mainland, there is a plant called ajes; they look somewhat similar to the turnips of Spain, especially those with a white shell or skin. Some ajes have either white, tawny, or ruddy purplish exteriors, and almost all are white inside, but some yellow, but are commonly much large than turnips. They grow beneath the earth, and aboveground they have branches or vines that spread out over the ground like a field bindweed, only thicker. The leaves and vines cover the entire surface of the ground where the ajes are planted; the veins on the leaves are very skinny, much like those of the field bindweed, or almost like ivy or vines, and the leafstalks are long and thin. When it is time to plant the ajes, they pile the soil into mounds, as I described in the preceding chapter about yuca, and in each mound they stick at least five or six stems, leaves and all. As the plants take root, they extend their branches or vines over the entire surface of the ground, as I have said; below are the roots that bear the fruit, which are these ajes. They ripen in three to four or five to six months at most, as the fruit responds to the fertility and quality of the soil; and even when the same type of plant is planted at the same time, the fruit may mature sooner or later; storms can also help or hinder the crops greatly. But no more than six months pass before harvesting, even for the slowest or laziest ones. When the ajes ripen, they dig them up with a hoe, harvesting anywhere between ten and thirty (more or less); these can be large, medium, or small, depending on whether the year is fertile or not. They are very good nourishment and very common and necessary, even for workers; and because they are cheap and take less time to grow, there are many who will only give their Indian or Blacks a diet of ajes and meat or fish. And so, in all the farms and estates there are many mounds and plots for these ajes. They are very good boiled, and taste even better roasted. Either way, they taste like very good chestnuts and is considered a pleasant food by Christians; but since they only eat them from time to time and not as their principal and ordinary food, it tastes better to them. If roasted and served with wine they are lovely after dinner as a desert, and they are also good prepared in the pot. The women of Castile make various stews and fritters with them that, although they come from the Indies, are understood to be quite good. Ajes are good for digestion, although they can cause gas. Some are so big that each one weighs four pounds or more. In many parts of Castilla del Oro, there are small yellow ones that seem to me to be the better than the ones from these islands. These also grow in Pacora, Careta, and other parts of the Mainland.
Image: Colored lithograph of a yam by Louis Van Houtte & Charles Lemaire published in Flore des Serres et des Jardins de l’Europe during the mid-1800s.