Chayotes

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.

Pests & Diseases keep an eye on them as with any cucurbits undercover, they will be prone to red spider mite and powdery mildew. I also had a problem with mealy bug in the polytunnel which affected the chayote plants very badly.

Lunar Planting
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

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  1. #1 by Cynthia on January 23, 2010 - 21:37

    Laura, I like this bold new look and thanks for introducing to another ingredient, new to me.

    • #2 by Laura on January 23, 2010 - 23:15

      Thanks Cynthia – i’d love to see what delicious recipes you come up with for this vegetable.

  2. #3 by Sylvie on January 25, 2010 - 19:01

    Laura – In my northern Virginia (USA) climate I grow chayote as a pot herb. Once in a while I get tiny chayote in the fall, if frost is late. I am somewhat envious, to say the least.

    Here is a recipe for using leaves & young shoot. Enjoy/
    http://www.laughingduckgardens.com/ldblog.php/2008/12/12/chayote-by-any-other-name/

    • #4 by Laura on January 26, 2010 - 17:24

      Thanks for the pointer to your recipe for Chayote Shoots with Ginger Pork. sounds yum. I grew the chayotes undercover in my unheated polytunnel they cropped well -summer- autumn but then got attacked by mealy bug and I had to burn everything including all the fruit. after I haven’t tried them outdoors It is very windy here but I should try them. We tried eating the prunnings and they the shoots are delicious I will try your recipe this year.

  3. #5 by Accidental Huswife on January 28, 2010 - 17:40

    Laura, your site is so beautiful! You know, my Mexican grandfather used to grow and cook chayote all the time but I haven’t had it since I was a girl. I somehow forgot all about it. Maybe I’ll grow some this season!

  4. #6 by Kate on January 29, 2010 - 21:24

    This is an amazing website now Laura!!! Fabulous…. a great link from your ancient farmhouse to the present via technology. Makes me want to rethink my Vegetable Vagabond blog for when I restart that…..

    • #7 by Laura on February 2, 2010 - 20:43

      hi kate ! so gad you dropped by – I do find the old stone easier to handle but this new wordpress thing is soo soo much better than the thing I was struggling with before. Are you still in Australia? when are you getting back to France, my vagabond friend.

  5. #8 by James on February 4, 2010 - 04:38

    This is a very popular vegetable in Louisiana. Although it goes by “merliton” here. Ask for chayote around here and no one will know what you’re talking about…

    • #9 by Laura on February 5, 2010 - 17:07

      Thanks for the info James it is great t know all the names for our edible plants.

  6. #10 by Matron on February 9, 2010 - 22:43

    I did grow some of these two years ago. A friend from South London bought them in Brixton market and later found they were sprouting in her vegetable basket. She brought them to me because of my ‘reputation’ for growing edibles. I grew them in a big pot in the greenhouse but the vines went up to the ceiling, out of the door, up the washing line pole, along the washing line… sadly the season ended about November before they could flower or fruit. Fun growing them!

  7. #11 by Heiko on February 16, 2010 - 14:57

    I first heard about chayotes a couple of weeks ago on http://www.getsoilednow.com/. Do you think they would grow outdoors my way on the Liguria/Tuscany border? This winter was exceptional with some snow and frost, but most years we remain frost free with peppers still ripening into November. I will just have to work out where to get on of those fruits to start off with. Italians aren’t known for experimenting with foreign food…

    • #12 by Laura on February 16, 2010 - 16:21

      Southern Liguria has a very similar climate to here – we have friends we visit in Corté, up in the Valley of Argentina in Liguria – it has some of same plants in the wild too. I would think chayotes would grow well for you (I grew mine in the polytunnel but I think it would have grown well outside too. I don’t have any chayotes left as I had to burn out the infected polytunnel due to mealy bug last year. It came in on a bought plant from a local nursery – I’ll NEVER buy plants again it has taken almost two seasons to get the bug under control in the polytunnel and I think it is still lurking just waiting for warm weather.

  8. #13 by Annapet on April 6, 2011 - 02:52

    Thank you for this post! I have a couple of sprouted chayote and will plant them out tomorrow. I’m growing them for the young leaves (tender shoots).

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