The Incas, whose civilization prospered for hundreds of years and vanished as soon as the Spanish came to plunder, revered potatoes. They lived in the high Andes Mountains with freezing temperatures and scarcely a drop of rain all year round. Their potatoes were purple, blue, red or yellow, small and gnarled. They forgave the tubers their ugliness and invented ways to store them for years at a time, a hedge against famine and a great snack for a trek. Though we do not admire the Incas for their ritual child sacrifice, in most ways theirs was an enviable society. Their wealth in gold was so abundant that no one tried to guard it, and though they never invented a wheel, they had a road system that was so well constructed and far-flung, it’s almost as if they had envisioned automobile travel. It is believed that they cultivated up to 3,000 varieties of potatoes in terraced beds in the highest Andean peaks. In deep trenches where the bottom layers of soil replicated warmer climates, with stair-step levels to facilitate irrigation, these sandal-footed horticulturalists developed potatoes suitable for every region of their empire, which comprised most of the western coast of the South American continent.
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