Choko – unloved & mostly forgotten in Australia

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Nov 082019

The Sechium edule (choko or chayote or mirliton squash) is a member of the pumpkin family and is native to tropical America.

The choko is a climber, and it (given a chance) will quickly cover fences, trellises or planter frames.

In Australia, the choko was used a lot during the Great Depression, and often the staple diet of the poor. The choko was dished up in every possible way, making many older Australians resistant to the use of this very versatile plant and its fruits.

The most common choko fruits are a roughly blunted triangular pear shape with a smooth green skin or with soft prickles over the fruit. However, there are some smooth-skinned, ribbed green fruiting cultivars growing in home gardens as well as cultivars bearing large, white prickly or smooth-skinned fruit.

The choko can be grown in nearly all soil types but prefers rich, well-drained organic soils with plenty of compost or animal manure added annually. When grown in the tropics, the choko is virtually evergreen, but in cooler climates it has one crop then dies down to the tuberous root system and sprouts again the following spring. Chokos will grow as far south as Tasmania when given a sunny site sheltered from wind and frosts.

Being a climber, the plant needs to be trained on a framework, although many gardeners just let the vine scramble over anything that is available. Rampant vines are often pruned to make way for pathways or to stop them invading and shading other plants.

Chokos do not require a great deal of attention as they do not suffer much from pests, diseases or predators. However, plants should be protected from hot winds and frosts. They require moisture and lots of organic fertiliser to produce well.

A regular deep mulching of the root system in early summer will help the plant by increasing biological activity in the soil and lessen the effect of hot, dry weather conditions.

Choko plants are easily grown from seed, which means planting the whole fruit, because the seed cannot be separated from the fruit. Just collect a fruit from friends or other gardeners, sit it on a warm window sill until it begins to grow a shoot from one end, then half-bury the fruit with the leafy shoot end above soil level.

In tropical areas, the seeds can be sown at any time, but in cooler areas planting is done in spring or early summer. The tubers of established plants can also be carefully dug up and transplanted when the plant is dormant, but as the choko grows so readily, this is usually not necessary. It can also be grown using the new-growth shoot tips but must have greenhouse conditions to prevent the shoots wilting.

Fruit can be harvested at any time during the growth stage and mature fruits will store for several months. Older fruits can become dry and stringy so it is best to harvest regularly. This will also promote further flowering and fruiting.

The skin is usually peeled before cooking or processing and it has a tacky sap, so gloves are recommended. The young leaves of the plant can be used in salads and the roots (tubers) can be used like a potato, making it a very versatile plant.

The fruit makes an excellent chutney and can be diced and added to stews, where it remains solid and absorbs the taste of other ingredients. Fresh sliced choko is used in salads or the slices can be fried in a pan with butter.

Young, immature fruits can be added to stir-fries, curries or stews; whole fruits can be roasted and the flesh used as an additive for soups; cooked flesh can be mashed and added to cakes or used as a bulking ingredient in jam.

Try using the peeled and diced pieces of choko as ingredients in your next stew. Add the diced pieces at a late stage and they will remain solid cubes with the absorbed taste of the stew.

Choko Recipes! compiled by Roslyn Deakin in PDF format.