Somebody once said to me that the choko (Sechium edule or chayote in the US) should be the symbol of sustainability. When you think about it, what else can you bang in the ground – and pretty much ignore – that will grow like mad then reward you with such a huge edible return, so much so that you struggle to give your excess away. The neighbours avoid even looking at you in case you hand them another bag full!
And that’s just the dilemma; they’re so productive, but it’s hard to find someone who’ll take more than a few chokos off your hands. And fair enough too… no doubt, many of us have endured the childhood joys of soggy boiled tasteless choko on the plate – it’s surely enough to turn you off for life – and that’s why it has such a bad name.
Is it worth revisiting? Well I think is… for a couple of reasons. The main one for me, is that in my experience of growing my own food, the choko comes at a time between seasons when there is a shortage of things to harvest… all the summer crops have been gathered up and I’m waiting for my winter crops to get to a harvestable stage. So it’s very useful for filling that gap… which explains why everyone used to grow it, back when home-grown crops were generally considered far more important. The other reason is that it’s so versatile in the kitchen – what, so there’s more to cooking them than boiling the hell out of them and smothering them in white sauce? Yes there is and you’ll be amazed what can be done when you start using them more.
The thing to remember is that when you cook with choko, it takes on the flavours of the recipe, including savory, spicy and sweet dishes. Chokos can be roasted, fried, pickled, steamed or mashed. It makes an excellent filler chopped and tossed into winter curries and casseroles, you can slice it finely and use it in stir-fries (yummy with ginger), and it and makes a lovely filling to be mixed with (or to replace) fruit in sweet pies and flans (remember the rumours around the tin pear). And when you don’t know what else to do with them… get busy making chutney, you can even make choko and ginger jam!
Chokos are at their productive peak in autumn, and they’re cheap, so why don’t you grow some and give them another try. I put the challenge to my Fab Foodie Buddy Julie Ray from garden2kitchen to come up with a couple of choko recipe ideas – something for breakfast and afternoon tea. She came up with two superb ideas – for breakfast Mamasita Eggs with Choko Salsa, and for afternoon tea, the deliciously sweet Choko Maple Tarte Tartin.
If you’re sold on what I’ve been saying, and you want to have a go at growing chokos for yourself, then that’s brilliant! Just buy a choko, leave it sitting in your fruit bowl until it sprouts, then find a spot by the fence or the shed, and plant it with the sprouting bit out of the soil. Water it in, and then walk away. Come back next autumn and there’ll be enough chokos on your vine to sink a ship. When it comes to harvesting, pick them small. They’re sweeter, crisper and easier to prepare.