With the help of the cold that in winter races across the flat grasslands of the highlands and pours down the river valleys, our ancestors preserved potatoes. It was a great idea, since the harvest was generally large enough that some of it would rot before it could be consumed if they had not figured out how to freeze and dry potatoes with the Andean cold. As a result, right now, papa helada (frozen potatoes) is appearing in the markets and on plates throughout Cuzco.
Papa helada is “cooked” by the highland cold. First one looks among the harvested potatoes for small ones. Then these are laid out on the flat places on top of a layer of straw, while waiting for the Andean cold to blow in like wind. People who are making papa helada will get up at two or three in the morning to enhance the process of freezing by throwing water on the potatoes and yet still must get up before cock’s crow, as they say, before the sun rises.
Generally, papa helada is made in the higher zones of Cuzco, such as around Sacsayhuaman, around Corao, and in the districts of Cazca, Ocongate, Pisaq, Cuyo Grande and Cuyo Chico during the months of May, June, and July, the cold months.
But this process is not applied to all potatoes. Some varieties respond to the process of freezing better than do others. Mostly it is the following varieties that are frozen: Peruanita, Compis, and Magtillo potatoes. However the Khuchiaca potato is also used. Its name is rather funny since it means pig dung. It takes this name from the black spots like little dung balls found on its yellow peel. These varieties are used because they are very starchy and can freeze and be conserved more rapidly, as a result.
To know if the potatoes are ready, people will pick up two or three potatoes and smash them into each other. They say that if the sound is like that of two rocks snapping against each other then the process is over and the papa helada is ready. These frozen potatoes are placed in large bags and then carried from the fields. They are taken to market to be sold to people who are excited to see the papa heladaappear. The buyers take them home and with them make wonderful mid-day meals.
Papa helada is sold in the markets in small piles of some 10 to 15 potatoes. They are also sold at bus stops, especially those that are made in the towns of Chincheros or Pisaq. Some women buy the potatoes and then quickly prepare them to offer them fully cooked on the edges of the markets, with cheese. The name papa helada con queso (frozen potato with cheese) is what the dish is called.
A variety of dishes will receive the papa helada as an accompaniment these days. These include the papa helada with cheese, chairo ( a soup) with papa helada, churrasco (grilled meat), fish, ribs, and so on. The limits are only those of the creativity of the cooks who find ways to combine the flavor and texture of this now thawed potato into their meals. The potato is now sweeter and more fluffy than before.