Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Chayote

by Jim Wilson

Chayote (pronounced "chy O teh" -- rhyme it with coyote and you'll be close) is the perennial vine Sechium edule. It's a tropical relative of summer squash, and the flavor of the pear-shaped fruits is similar. They store much longer, however, and are harvested in fall, long after your squash vines have faded away or succumbed to squash vine borers.

Prime chayotes have smooth skin with virtually no wrinkles, spines or ropy lines, and no stringy interior fiber. Fruits range in color from ivory white to medium green. Most weigh 1/2 to 1 pound, but some reach nearly 5 pounds. The skin is edible when cooked but it can be quite tough, so is usually peeled off. The fruits remain firm after cooking and can be served as a side dish or used in soups, stir fries, salads or casseroles. The large, tender seed, the leafy tips of the tendrils and the fleshy, starchy roots are also edible when cooked.

Chayote is native to parts of Mexico and Central America, where a great many heirloom varieties can be found. If you scout the major produce markets in California in late summer or fall you can usually find several very different kinds. Chayote is also relatively common and inexpensive throughout Florida and south Texas, as well as in Louisiana, where it's known both as vegetable pear and by its Cajun name of mirliton. In early winter, you can even find a few chayotes displayed -- at a fancy price -- among the tropical fruits at produce counters in the East.

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