Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Chayote (Sechium edule)
Individual fruits typically reach about 6 inches in diameter, but they are usually harvested at a smaller size for commercial production. Multiple varieties exist, some with deeply furrowed or very spiny skin. The base of the fruit is distinctively grooved or puckered.
The chayote squash is prepared by peeling and then boiling, steaming or baking. It's also possible to cook it first and then remove the skin, as is done with most winter squash. The skin of fruits picked before they reach full size is tender and edible after cooking, like summer squash. The sap from the raw cut fruit can cause skin irritation or numbness in some individuals. I experience some temporary numbness in my fingertips after peeling raw fruit, but I find it less bothersome than wearing gloves. The squash remains firm after cooking and has a mild, slightly buttery flavor. There is a large single seed at the center of each fruit that has a delectable nutty taste. The tendrils and young shoots are edible when steamed, and unlike many "edible" shoots or vines, these have a pleasant taste.
The rest of the root system spreads out over a 12-foot diameter area, so give it plenty of room and only plant shallow-rooted plants within the root zone. A full sun location is best for fruit production. In regions where the top inch or so of soil freezes in the winter, a thick mulch applied in fall will protect the crown of the plant until growth resumes in the spring.
Excess harvest can be stored by wrapping the squash in newspaper and keeping it in a cool location. The squash is a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, zinc, copper and manganese, and it is also a good source of niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, magnesium and potassium. The green shoots are even more nutritious.
In some regions, the strong dried stems are woven into baskets and hats.