While I was reading “1493” by Charles C. Mann, I came upon the fact that there are apparently hundreds of species of potatoes cultivated for human consumption in the Andes. Some of these are poisonous unless also eaten with a bit of clay. As I reflected on the ash yams being grown in Morrowind, this post almost wrote itself.
The origin of the name “ash yam” seems deceptively simple: it is a species of yam domesticated and cultivated in the ashy steppes of Morrowind. This agricultural practice has assumedly gone on for hundreds of years, ever since the antecedents of the Dunmer arrived from the Aldmeri domains of old. I have made a study into the taxonamy of the ash yam however, and come upon surprising results. Ash yam is not a geographical or botanical term, but a cultural one.
My first contact for my study was with a Redoran landowner located south of Baan Malur. In between bellowing at his sparring sons to train harder, this worthy individual related to me an astounding fact: there are more than fifteen different varieties of ash yam, each with their own distinctive shape, color, and (if the culinists are to be believed) flavor. All of these species are capable of being crossbred, leading to hundreds of more varieties and plenty of confusion to more amateur horticulturalists than such esteemed personages as myself. When he learned of my interest in the ash yam, this Redoran landowner invited me to dinner at his liege lord’s manor.
As I sat down to dinner with his family, a highly ceremonial affair involving more than fifty people variably related by blood or by oath, I witnessed a surprising ritual. Beside each plate was a small earthenware pot of ash. Before touching their meal (an elaborate affair of nix hound steak garnished with scrib jelly, a side of a cheese-like substance the locals call scuttle, and of course, grilled and basted ash yams) I watched in astonishment as each Redoran individual placed a pinch of this ash on the tongue and invoked the names of their ancestors. This was followed by political and familial banter as the worthy family consumed the rest of the ash, a ritual every single one of the attendees completed before digging into their meal.
I was to learn the reason for this strange custom several hours after dinner, wherein I threw up most of the ash yams in front of my sympathetic host. He explained to me then that some of those fifteen species of ash yam mentioned before are poisonous. There is a compound in them that causes nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and the runs, and it can be distilled down into a popular toxin used in dispensing Redoran political justice. He said that ingesting the ashes purifies one from this poison, hence the peculiar ritual I had witnessed earlier that evening.
The next eve, I again sat down to dinner with the family. Someone had informed the cook of my indiscretion the earlier evening, and the servant was kind enough not to embarrass my constitution again by serving me the ash yams. The family was surprised, therefore, when I asked for the ash yam dish as well as presenting my procurement of a portion of their consecrated ash.
I was expelled from this Redoran household a few days later, but I am pleased to report that I never again suffered from ash yam indigestion so long as I remembered to ingest at least one measure of ash salts prior to my meal. I have thoroughly studied the alchemical aspects of this matter, and have reason to believe that a handful of fine clay could be used to much the same effect. I would highly suggest this latter approach if the reader finds themselves traveling in Morrowind, so they do not risk offending their host by pilfering too much ash from the family’s shrine before dinnertime.