Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Chayote is a member of the squash family and grows on a climbing vine. There are several varieties from small white to giant dark green, all are native to Central America. The chayote is an interesting looking fruit, shaped like a large slightly flattened pear with a crumpled smiling indentation at the larger end and a smaller variation of the same at the top. The leaves are quite succulent, a dark green and vary in shape from a horseshoe in the early stages to a delicate heart. Seeds are hard to find – of course chayotes can be bought in any supermarket or vegetable stand, but removing the seed from the plant is time consuming and frustrating: the single edible seed is soft and difficult to remove from the flesh. It’s best to plant whole chayotes. There are two types – in Costa Rica a chayote which grows a single sprout is a macho – a male, one which produces two sprouts is a hembra, a female. Many gardeners here will plant only hembras which produce both male and female flowers. The problem is you can’t tell what it is until it sprouts, it’s a good idea to plant several to be on the safe side.
The first three I tried didn’t take, I was convinced that it was best to remove the seed and then sprout it. Finally I just left the vegetable in a dark corner of my kitchen for a couple of weeks and it sprouted – with two shoots! I built my simple arbor and laid it on a nice rich bed of organic garden compost and decayed wood and left it. It’s not as “crazy rapido” as one local said, but it’s a nice steady grower and there’s a noticeable difference every day. The grasshoppers ate the heart out of one of the shoots and it has taken about two weeks to recover but it’s growing well again. I have three more of a different variety sitting in the same dark corner waiting to send out their thin white roots through that crumpled smile at the big end.
Chayotes are completely edible – fruit, leaf, shoot, root, flower, seed, skin. My kind of vegetable! The fruit doesn’t have a strong flavor but is good in soups, stews, salads, baked – and can even be made into a fake apple pie or crumble. This last is especially important as apples here are ridiculously expensive, rarely organic and come from Chile or the US, that’s a long way for an apple (though given they are one of the most highly sprayed fruit, they arrive perfectly preserved).