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Choko-block full of goodness - Garden NZ
Thursday, 19 July 2012 08:00
I am sure that a number of older readers will be familiar with the vine grown vegetable/fruit commonly called choko.
While in a green grocery recently, I was surprised to find chokos for sale. Even better, at a knock-down price. There were two fruits that had the
beginnings of roots forming at the base, making them perfect for planting which suited me as I have long wanted to grow a vine or two of this
interesting plant.
The choko is a member of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae), along with melons, courgettes (zucchini), cucumbers and squash.
Native to Mexico, chokos were introduced to Europe by early explorers, who brought back a wide assortment of botanical samples. The Age of
Conquest also spread the plant south, ultimately resulting in its integraton into the cuisine of many other Latin American nations. Since then,
chokos have been transported across the globe and grown worldwide.
Commonly known in New Zealand and Australia as the choko, the original name was ‘chayote’ (Sechium edule). The word being a Spanish
derivative of the Nahuatl word chayohtli. This veg/fruit is also known in different parts of the world as christophene or christophine, mirliton or
merleton (Creole/Cajun), cho-cho, pear squash, vegetable pear and chouchoute.
As with other members of the gourd family, the choko plant has a sprawling habit, so it should only be planted in a garden where there is plenty
of room. Grow plants on chicken wire, or strung against a fence for support.
Because the roots are susceptible to rot, chokos require good, free-draining soil. They can be hard to grow, but do well in the right conditions
and with a little care. They don't like wet feet so, be very careful with watering!
When cooked, chokos should be treated like squash, lightly cooked to retain their crisp flavour. Served with other vegetables or fruit, chokos
tend to absorb the flavours of their companions. Some people describe them as bland and as a result they are commonly served with
seasonings such as salt, butter and pepper. Chokos can be boiled, stuffed (like marrows), mashed, baked, fried, or pickled in sauce.
However, the fruit does not need to be cooked or peeled, and is often marinated with lemon or lime juice then added raw to salads or salsas.
Fresh, green fruit are firm without brown spots or signs of sprouting. Smaller chokos are the most tender.
It is also interesting to note that the root, stem, seeds and leaves of the choko plant are also edible. The tubers of the plant can be prepared in
the same way as yams, potatoes or kumaras. The shoots and leaves are often used in salads and stir fries – a method popular in Asia.
Whether raw or cooked, chokos are a good source of amino acids and vitamin C. Both the leaves and fruit have diuretic, cardiovascular and
anti-inflammatory properties, and a tea made from the leaves has been used in the treatment of arteriosclerosis and hypertension, and to
dissolve kidney stones.
I plan to plant my two chokos in 45 litre containers and keep them in the glasshouse over winter before moving them to a sunny wall with
support in the spring, after frosts have past.
Contributed by Wally Richards
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