Sechium edule. Cucurbitaceae Chayote, also called Vegetable Pear, Merliton, Choko or Chow Chow
I love trying new vegetables and this is one I started growing in 2008 which turned out to be one of the best edibles I’ve grown. Chayote is not something I had grown or even tasted before 2008 but a local cheese maker, Hermine, who runs an organic goat farm nearby, gave me two chayotes. The idea was that I could eat one to see what it tasted like and plant the other, but as they both started to sprout I planted both and just hoped that they would taste good at harvest time. The vegetables turned out to surprisingly good, crisp and delicious, almost better than a courgette or a cucumber in some ways; the flesh is denser and crisper, with a light subtle taste and smooth texture that makes them very versatile in the kitchen. The leaves were also delicious and as the climber produced tons of leafy growth it is a good source of leafy veg too.
Origin Its origins are Mesoamerican although how far back it goes is a mystery because, unlike many other vegetables, there have been no remains; fibres, seed or skin found to date its cultivation or use. It was however recorded by the early Spanish invaders as a food consumed by the Aztecs.
Propagation Chayote are propogated from the whole fruits. Keep some fruits back each season and plant as many as required. In spring plant the chayotes on their sides with the thin end facing slightly upwards nearer the surface, cover with soil, water in then add a layer of mulch to protect from any late frosts and retain moisture.
Site and Soil As with other cucurbits Chayote will grow best in rich soil. Plant the whole fruit in stations prepared with good rich planting mix. I use a mixture of manure, woodash, leaf mould and garden compost.
Care Keep moist and provide a climbing frame for the plants to grow on. Pinch out and tie up plants as they grow.
Harvest Fruit are ready to harvest 4 -6 months after planting.
Use Most parts of the chayote are edible; the starchy tuberous parts of the roots are used like potatoes, the shoots as a pot herb, the young leaves as spinach or as a medicinal tea, the fruit as a vegetable and the nutty stones inside the fruit are prized by cooks. When young the fruit can be eaten whole but as they get bigger it is best to remove the skins as these can get a bit tough. They are equally delicious raw or cooked and go well with nutty, hot, salty, spicy or sour flavours. I particularly like to cook them with coconut, lentils, peanuts, tomatoes, chilli and citrus. Lovely grated raw, sliced in salads, stir-fried, lightly boiled, baked, candied, pickled, pureed, mashed or added to soups, curries and stews. I’ve still have lots of experimenting to do with this vegetable in the kitchen but so far it really is a winner.
I have found that cucurbits sown one or two days before a full moon have a higher germination rate and crop more vigorously. I planted the second of the two chayotes on the 19th March two days before a full moon. The first I planted a couple of weeks earlier.
Sources and links for more information
wikipedia gives a good breakdown of the many names for this plant around the world.
R. Lira Saade (National Herbarium of Mexico, Mexico City) writes about Chayote as a neglected crop describing its botany, history, culture and uses in her article New Crop Chayote
Chayote is posted as a Plant of the week on Killer Plants