The Curse of the Chayote.

Summer in the French countryside would be bedevilled by the problem of what to do with the courgettes. You would put in a couple of plants and the next thing you knew there would be a forest of little green devils just waiting for you to turn your back before ballooning into marrows. They must have been eavesdropping when God told Noah and his sons to bring forth abundantly in the earth and thought that the injunction applied to them as well.

From the bible of Elizabeth David I thought that you picked them when young and crisp…my French neighbours thought otherwise. When the lady who delivered the bread agreed to take some of my surplus she eyed the crop and said she would come back in a couple of days ‘when they were a proper size’. Indeed she did and was pleased with her haul, which she intended to bottle. I’d been in the sous sol of her house… the shelves were full of produce she had bottled and she had picked the courgettes when they were the height of her bottles. I would not have thought of that – or of bottling the beasts at all.

Costa Ricans hold a similar view on the size of what they call zucchini which explains the heaps of green and white striped containers of spongy flesh which you find on the stalls of the feria. But at least they don’t bottle the things…

Mark you, as far as I can see they don’t bottle anything. You can mark the increase in the number of foreign settlers in an area by the availability of Kilner jars in the shops.

The curse of the garden here is the chayote. The things pictured above.

Should you wish to plant them Danilo swears that you can tell male from female fruits by the number of shoots protruding from their fundaments. I have no idea if they are male, female or transgender but it seems to me that if you hurl one out into the shrubbery it takes root with alacrity, while its ability to camouflage itself when young means that you do not see it until it leaps into action and invades the washing line. Peg out your smalls in the morning and they will have been entwined in its loving embrace by late afternoon.

Currently they have invaded the walls of the swimming pool and are advancing along the balustrades of the balcony, cunningly taking advantage of the fact that I can reach only so far down from the balustrade and only so far up from the pool giving a margin of several feet for their activity. Danilo flatly refuses to uproot the parent plant on the grounds that he can use the fruits. My suggestion that he get in the pool to pick them was addressed with scorn.

A. He is shorter than me.

and

B. The water would come over his wellies.

I can conquer A by handing him the long handled fruit picker we use for the oranges but B is insuperable.

Why don’t I use the fruitpicker? You need space to manoevre the thing and I am clumsy.

Higher Authority has decided that he will have to take matters in hand. He will propel his wheelchair out onto the small balcony which hangs over the pool, and use the fruitpicker. The chayotes will fall into the water whence I shall retrieve them with a bucket.

But which wheelchair?

The ordinary one? No, the brakes aren’t too good and he might be catapulted over the rails into the pool while lunging with the fruitpicker.

The mobility scooter? No. That lives in the car ready for action on shopping trips.

So the heavy artillery it is…the big electric wheelchair in which he rumbles around house and garden like the Mekon in search of Dan Dare.

I can take or leave chayote….usually the latter…but when they appear in the kitchen – thank you Danilo for finding yet another plant – I feel obliged to use them. When young they have a crisp texture…rather like a half frozen apple but without the flavour….and that’s about it.

I stew them in a pan with chicken, onions, garlic, potatoes, chinese cabbage and coriander – but all they add to it is bulk.

Likewise a stew with chicken, carrots and achiote – which you probably know as annatto, used for colouring cheese, but it has a distinct flavour. Again, the chayote was bulk, but took on an ominous neon colouring.

I did once try stuffing them….but for all the good that did I would have been better off stuffing them where the sun doesn’t shine. At least you can stuff a marrow.

Locals use them as part of a picadillo..a mishmash of veg served with the midday casado – the regulation plate of rice, beans, salad, picadillo and tortilla served with options from steak, pork chop, fish or beef stew as basics or ox tongue, tripe or chicken stew if the cook has ambitions. The chayote is boiled, then skinned and diced and mixed with sweet pepper and sweetcorn. Being boiled it loses its crisp texture, but the mix is pleasant.

I have mentioned the mobility scooter….

It has enabled Higher Authority to enjoy shopping again without the limitations of being pushed by someone…it gives him independence. He can belt round the alleys of the Mercado Central and navigate the Mercado Borbon, whacking his shopping in the basket or, as in the case of the fortnightly visit for dog food, making his orders then zooming on while Danilo takes the sacks back to the car.

He can also navigate my least favourite shop….the Chinese Hell.

It is a large chaotic Chinese owned supermarket between the Central and the Borbon, where stuff is certainly piled high but is not always cheap. Previous to the purchase of the scooter Danilo would push him to the entrance and leave him to it while coming with me to pick up the dog food. As the floors are cracked and uneven he would become stuck at which point staff and customers would extricate him. Friendships were formed. When the dog food had been put in the car Danilo would go in search of him while I would wait in the packing area, looking for them on the security camera screen by the tills. It is the sort of place where you are supposed to leave your bags at the entrance, but as my bag contains my money I am reluctant to do that.

If Danilo returned in search of a trolley, then Higher Authority had found a bargain…whether it was top grade rice at rock bottom prices, top grade coffee likewise, or less welcome items like sliced bread – ‘it will be fine for toast’ – one kilo of sour cream in a plastic bag – ‘we use a lot’ – or six pineapples – ‘come in handy for stir fries’.

But all this has changed. Once mounted on his scooter he leaves us for dead. On his first appearance at the Hell, the security guard slapped him on the back, allowing him to go through with his bag in the front basket, and he went round in a welter of handshakes and smiles, even when demolishing a display of sweets. When his basket was overflowing a member of staff attached the contents with sticky tape…a regular triumphal progress.

Unfortunately the Hell has taken thought as to its image…..

On his last visit I was presented with a clutch of cards featuring recipe suggestions which looked as if they were stock from an upmarket shop from the quality. He had seen them by the till. Free. They would ‘give me ideas’.

The vegetarian hamburger suggestion was promptly turned down.

‘There must be better than that…give them to me..’

Harumphs from the front seat of the car indicated that other suggestions were not meeting with approval and then

‘Look! This looks O.K. and we’ve got everything on the list…’

A card was handed back to me.

Chayote soup.

On return, into the Mekonmobile and onto the little balcony armed with the fruitpicker. Despite lunges worthy of a duellist the thing did not reach.

What was to be done?

‘Fetch a ladder. You can put it in the pool and reach from there.’

‘It will float away.’

Call Danilo to stand on the foot of it’

‘He can’t. The water will be over his wellies’.

Ever alert, Danilo arrived bearing chayote from the other plant. I must follow him and find where it is in order to destroy it.

I consulted the recipe. Peel and boil the chayote. Drain and put chayote in a blender with a bug bunch of coriander. Blend. Pour into saucepan, add salt and pepper, greek yogurt and some of the cooking liquor to let it down. Heat and serve.

Higher Authority decided we would have it for breakfast the next day…so in the early hours of the morning I made it. It had a texture that reminded me of okra…viscous…while all I could taste was coriander. Perhaps 6.00 am was not the ideal time to sample soup…still, we ate it.

By 8.00 am we wereboth rushing for the loo…damned good thing we have two of them otherwise things might have become desperate.

Finally, I have found a use for the chayote…..

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26 thoughts on “The Curse of the Chayote.”

  1. LOL we used to call them Cho Cho in RSA pronounced Sou Sou!! I loved them as you could give them any flavour that you wanted and the dogs used to have them cooked in with their food as well. I have tried to grow them here and although the plants grow, we have never had any fruit on them. I could not kill the plant if I had wanted to in RSA and we certainly had more than enough fruit. I gather they grow well in Ozz as well. The French climate ib the Charente sadly does not agree with them! You can send some of the surplus here, but I think maybe it would be too expensive!!

    Hope you are both doing well. Take care, Diane

    1. I was surprised by the texture…perhaps it was the admixture of yogurt.
      I am sure that I don’t know how to cook okra properly…but mine always turn out slimey.
      On a better note though, the ylang ylang tree outside the front door is in flower for the first time and the house smells of expensive scent every time a breeze blows.

  2. . Dear gods! Ask any Australian who lived through the depression about choko/choyote. A friend’s mother said they ate the damned things with whatever else they could get during the lean times. “And then” she said, “came the bloody war!”
    Yes, they can be used to make other fruits go further, but,man! they need a lot of help in the flavour department!

  3. They would give me depression just contemplating them….
    Given all the scare stories about Brexit Costa Rica could make a fortune exporting the things to Blighty if no deal becomes a reality….

  4. I hope they do not grow in North America.
    Perhaps Danilo would appreciate a pair of waders for Christmas. The ones that rise to the armpit.

  5. His majesty driving around ‘Hell’ picking bargains for you sounds fun!
    He obviously thinks of you all the time he is there. 🙂
    Sadly Tesco do not import such luxuries as chayote as I suspect it would be too expensive for Brexiteers.
    After Brexit we might be farming them here in the fields opposite! That nice Mr Rees-Mogg has once again admitted it would take the UK 50 years to see the benefits from Brexit. The nice Mr Rees-Mogg who has already made around ten million from Brexit as it is.

    1. Force feed Rees Mogg with chayote…that’ll learn him!
      The Chinese Hell is quite something if you don’t mind being jostled and watched by security staff at every turn…not my cup of tea at all.

  6. I grew up with the bloody things in Australia, where they are known as chokoe. Completely tasteless and just a vehicle for whatever sauce takes your fancy — the French would love them! Just like chard stems, or indeed, zucchini. And I totally agree about the frustration of zucchini (courgette) that is too big. I am always ferretting through my local market vendor’s zucchini box and telling him that the zucchini are all too big to be nice to eat.

  7. Nothing wrong with soup in the early morning – in fact 24/7. Here in Turkey, when driving from any ‘A’ to any ‘B’, in every small town you journey through there will be several ‘Çorbacı’ – soup makers serving several freshly made soups with as much bread and tea as you can handle. Midnight? Three am? No problem! The difference being, I suppose, is that here they make the stuff with ingredients that actually taste of something – even if it is sheeps brains!

    1. Elderly French neighbours started their day on the soup left over from the night before with stale bread dunked in it…but being a jolly good soup it was fine.
      Turks are too bright to make soup from chayote, thank goodness.

  8. Your description of the chayote is the exact reason I have avoided planting any kind of squash-they multiply like rabbits and stare at you longingly all summer waiting to be picked and used in some clever recipe. I lose my enthusiasm for preparation and the taste in no-time. *Sigh*

    Glad HA is able to get about in multiple ways. Losing mobility is not how one expects (or wants) to spend their later years.

    1. Danilo keeps bringing squashes of various sorts up to the house and I can’t say that I have enjoyed any of them –
      HA likes the butternut one, which we grow but leave the others to Danilo for his family. I did make a Brazilian stew in one – once. The trauma of getting it out of the oven and onto the table decided me against doing it twice.

      HA gets about pretty well given his various health problems…he can walk, but as his last attack hit his lungs he cannot catch his breath after a few paces, thus the wheelchairs. People here are very kind, too…always a helping hand if he gets stuck, or can’t see something being in a wheelchair.

  9. The estimable LA Times has declared the chayote as 2019’s “IT Vegetable.” Oh so trendy. The chayote au gratin was pronounced to be divine. But I’m with you: if ever there was a “meh” squash, the chayote would be the winner. Careful hanging your nethers over the balcony gathering chayote. Of all the possible outcomes, some are disastrous and most are humiliating. Same for Leo only in spades. Maybe a SCUBA suit for Danilo.

    1. You will be pleased to know that I have taken the loppers, crawled out on the wall of the pool and separated the Thing from its master stem.
      I’m not a horror film fan, but Danilo in a SCUBA suit would make, shall we say, a good cameo appearance in one…You wouldn’t want him biting your leg underwater.
      Are food journalists running out of things to write about? You have to be desperate to hymn the chayote.

    1. I have chopped down the vine…finally – though I have still not found the one from which Danilo collects.
      After the soup I think I shall be free of recipe suggestions with chayote…luckily HA has found Puerto Rican recipes for my delectation which have a base of a sofrito which is brilliant and uses olives stuffed with pimiento a lot in the sauces. Results so far have been encouraging…
      Those online recipes can be a hoot…so many of them copy another with or without quoting the source and some are just bizarre. The great fault of all of them is all the blah about the writer, her family’s likes and dislikes, the advert for something ghastly, photographs showing ingredients in a pot and then more blah before you finally get to the recipe.
      I havenlt forgotten the listing for the house…my estate agent, to whom manana is an instruction, it appears, has not completed it so I will do a FB page and send you the reference.

  10. I love the saga of the unreachable chayotes and the increasingly desperate plans to reach them. It certainly sounds like they’re not worth cooking anyway if they can’t be bothered to exude even a smidgeon of flavour. I do sympathise with Danilo not wanting to risk the water breaching his wellies. Flooded feet aren’t much fun.

    1. Danilo now wants to use the pool to raise tilapia….this may involve waders….
      I suppose there must be equally useless things which are edible…but off hand I reckon that the chayote must take the biscuit.

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