Saturday, September 3, 2022

Overlooked Vegetables: Chokos (Chayotes)

It’s an extraordinarily delicate vegetable that ought to be a gourmet treat, but the “choko” is one of those vegetables that just don’t seem to get into the shops. When I was growing up in Auckland, New Zealand, in the 1950s and 1960s, it was quite common for people to have a choko vine in their suburban back garden: it was one of the plants, like tree tomatoes and feijoas, that grew like billyo in our climate. Chokos weren’t as ubiquitous as the backyard lemon tree, but they were quite common. When we lived in Hauraki in the 1960s our neighbours had a giant vine that was smothering the thick growth of trees along their fence line with us (trees whose roots regularly blocked our drains, driving Dad ropeable). The vine’s fat, pale green pear-shaped fruits were going to waste, so Mum occasionally picked one, but their bland taste wasn’t popular with the kids, so we didn’t have them very often at all. Things might have been different if her approach to vegetables hadn’t been to cook them to death, mind you.

    The choko, as it’s known in Australia and New Zealand, or chayote (“chah-YOH-teh”) as they’re called in their place of origin, Central America, is a member of the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae: its botanical name is Sechium edule. All parts of the plant can be eaten but it’s the fruit that is usually consumed. “Chayotes [the fruit] come in two common varieties, the smooth variety … and a prickly variety (covered in spines).” (GourmetSleuth.com) They’re a popular vegetable in Mexico, and also in Louisiana, where they’re called “mirliton”, the local pronunciation being “mel-eh-tawn.” You can read more about the Louisiana mirliton traditions in the Gastro Obscura article: “After Hurricane Katrina, Home Gardeners Saved New Orleans’ Iconic Squash”, by Reina Gattuso, who writes: “Their crunchy, zucchini-flavored flesh, which plumps into moist meatiness when cooked, is a versatile player in Cajun and Creole cooking, inspiring salads, pies, and a signature Thanksgiving casserole.” If you’ve never seen a choko vine, the green leafy photos there will show you just what they’re like.

    I wouldn’t say the choko’s taste is exactly zucchini-like, but it’s terribly hard to describe a taste. Chokos have the crunchiness of cucumbers, their cousins, and something of their texture, too, but the taste, though very mild, isn’t that distinctive cucumber one, but a little sweeter.

    Well, over the 60 years since Mum decided that next-door’s chokos were going to waste and she might as well try them on the kids, the vegetable hasn’t been rediscovered and remarketed like its old mates the “tree tomato” and “Chinese gooseberry”—that’s tamarillo and kiwifruit, Veronica, dear.

    I did see chokos for sale once or twice in my Thebarton supermarket in Adelaide: very much not in bulk, just one or two looking lost in the frosty recesses of the fancy-veggie fridge, along with the visibly deteriorating packets of fancy lettuce that the locals apparently didn’t want. Whereas the choko vine fruits so heavily that there could have been a tower of them, rivalling the huge bins of carrots, potatoes and pumpkins.

    Although The Australian Women’s Weekly of November 24, 1971 tells us the chokos of tropical Queensland are available from November and plentiful from January/February, in temperate climates in the Antipodes the standard ripening season is May, June and July, according to Daley’s Fruit Tree Nursery. They could be a very useful addition to our winter dinners, especially since they can be eaten as a cooked vegetable or, either cooked or raw, in salads.

Still not popular

I thought the choko might still be quite a well-known vegetable in New Zealand, but I only found 3 recipes in mid-2020 on the New Zealand recipe database Eat Well. It’s also overlooked in Australia: Australia’s Best Recipes had 13 recipes, which considering the relative size of the two countries’ populations, is pathetic, too. If you think this seems like a reasonable number, compare it to the result for choko’s cousin, pumpkin: 519 recipes!

To find a plethora of Antipodean choko recipes we need to go back decades. From the 1930s to the 1970s there were plenty of choko recipes in The Australian Women’s Weekly. You can search its digitised pages on the big Australian national database, Trove. Some of the recipes are distinctly odd, and I doubt if you’d bother with them today. But some are still remarkably doable. I’ve selected a variety, including some of the oddities, interesting because they’re typical of their period, plus a scattering of the more modern recipes I’ve found for the versatile and delicate choko or chayote.

I found three soup recipes: two modern ones on Australia’s Best Recipes and one old one from 1971. Here are the two that most appeal to me:

Creamy Minted Choko Soup

    * 3 large chokoes  * 4 sticks celery  * 2 onions

    * [1/4 -1/2?] cup mint, finely chopped**

    * 1 1/2 pints water  * 2 chicken stock cubes

    * 1 oz. butter or substitute  * 2 tablespoons flour

    * 1/4 pint cream  * 1/2 pint milk  * 1 bayleaf  * salt, pepper

Peel, core, and slice chokoes. Slice celery, peel and chop onions. Place in a saucepan with water, crumbled stock cubes, pepper, salt, and bayleaf. Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer until vegetables are tender. Remove bayleaf. Pass through blender or push through sieve. Melt butter, blend in flour, cook few minutes, then remove from heat and gradually blend in soup. Cook, stirring, until soup boils and thickens. Stir in milk, heat gently. Just before serving, stir in mint and cream, heat gently.

This is also delicious served cold (stir in mint just before serving).

–Serves 4 to 6.

Source: The Australian Women’s Weekly, November 24, 1971

** I couldn’t read the amount of mint.

Choko Soup

“Very moreish and lovely on a cold winter's night, so easy to make.”

    * 4 chokoes chopped  * 3 potato chopped  * 1 leek chopped

    * 1 onion chopped large  *  2 cloves garlic

    * 4 cups chicken stock  * 2 tablesp milk powder

    * 1/2 tsp curry powder  * 1 tsp cayenne pepper to taste

    * 1 tsp fresh curly parsley  * 90 g butter

1. Melt butter in a saucepan, then stir fry vegetables with the curry powder for 5 minutes.

2. Add 2 cups of stock and cook until soft.

3. Blend until smooth.

4. Return to saucepan adding remaining stock and bring to boil.

5. Blend milk with a little water, then stir in the salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.

5. Add chopped parsley when serving.

Notes: This recipe is suitable to freeze.

 –6 Servings

Source: maryann manchee, Australia’s Best Recipes,

http://www.bestrecipes.com.au

    The online comments on this soup were all very favourable. One reader advocated adding a spoonful of sour cream if you find it too peppery.

Chokos can be eaten raw or cooked, and you still find salad recipes using them either way, but in earlier days in Australia they were apparently always cooked. So I’ll give you the recipes for using cooked chokos in salads first.

    The easiest way to cook chokos is to peel them, slice them fairly finely, and boil or steam them until only just tender. Here are some salad ideas from 1937 and 1971:

Choko Salad

Cut cooked chokos finely, chill, mix with mayonnaise or French dressing, and serve in lettuce leaf, or the diced chokos may be served in mixed salad with tomatoes, celery, etc. They can also be used in place of potato in the regular potato salad.

Source: The Australian Women’s Weekly, May 1, 1937

Choko and Zucchini Salad

    * 3 medium-sized chokoes  * 3 zucchini  * 1 small lettuce

    * French dressing  * 1 teaspoon salt  * water

Peel, core, and thinly slice chokoes; wash and thinly slice zucchini. Put chokoes and zucchini in saucepan, cover with cold water, add salt. Bring to boil, boil 2 minutes; drain and refrigerate 1 hour.

Wash lettuce, dry well, refrigerate in plastic bag until crisp; tear leaves, place in salad bowl, add chokoes and zucchini, toss with french [sic] dressing.

–Serves 4 to 6.

Source: The Australian Women’s Weekly, November 24, 1971

    Since chayotes are popular in Mexico, I thought that Pati Jinich, my favourite Mexican TV cook, might have lots of recipes for them on her website, but she only had a few. Here’s the salad one that cooks the chokos. (The expression “chayote squash” is a common American usage for “choko.”) You could just boil or steam them, sliced, as suggested above, rather than the much slower cooking method she uses. Pati calls it “Pickled Onion Salad” but the onions are not “pickled” as in the British tradition, just lightly marinated. The red onions available in North America (Pati is based in the USA) are much milder and sweeter than our Australasian ones. To reduce the raw onion taste, marinate them in the dressing overnight. Or preferably, use shallots instead.

Chayote Squash and Pickled Onion Salad

(Ensalada de chayote y cebolla morada)

* 2 pounds chayote squash  * 1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced

* 3 tablespoons vegetable oil  * 3 tablespoons olive oil

* 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

* 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or to taste

* 1/4 teaspoon sugar, or to taste

* 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

* 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano or 1 fresh oregano

Place unpeeled chayotes in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil and cover the pan, then reduce heat to low; simmer for 25 to 30 minutes until the chayotes are cooked through. A knife will cleanly go through them, but they won’t be completely soft or mushy.

Drain, and once cool, peel the chayotes. Cut them in half, then slice into sticks.

Combine the remaining ingredients, except for the onions, and whisk into a vinaigrette. Add the onions, mix well and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes. It can also be made ahead a day before and left in the refrigerator.

Toss the chayote sticks with the vinaigrette and onions.

Serve or cover and refrigerate for up to 12 hours.

–6 servings.

Source: Pati Jinich, https://patijinich.com/

    This next is a salad of raw vegetables from Pati Jinich which uses typical Mexican ingredients including the jicama, a tuber which you’d be unlikely to find for sale outside the Americas, though in Australia if you want to grow it, Daley's Fruit Tree Nursery can probably supply it. You could just omit it or if you like, substitute a few sliced tinned water chestnuts.

Chayote, Apple and Jicama Salad with Avocado and Pepita Dressing

(Ensalada de Chayote, Manzana y Jicama con Aderezo de Aguacate y Pepitas)

* 1 pound (about 2) chayote squash, peeled and julienned

* 1 pound (about 2) tart green apples, peeled and julienned

* 1 jicama, peeled and julienned

* 1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted and meat scooped out

* 1/4 cup pepitas or raw and hulled pumpkin seeds

* 1 garlic clove, peeled  * 1/4 cup olive oil

* 7 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

* 1/4 cup (packed) coarsely chopped cilantro [coriander] leaves and upper stems, plus more for garnish

* 2 tablespoons (packed) coarsely chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish

* 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

* 1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt

* 1 teaspoon whole grain mustard

In a small pan set over low-medium heat, toast the pepitas, stirring occasionally, until they start making popping sounds and are very lightly browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

For the avocado dressing, in the jar of a blender, add 1/2 cup of water and the oil, lime juice, garlic, cilantro, dill, avocado, pepper, salt, mustard, and the toasted pepitas, and puree until completely smooth.

In a bowl, toss the julienned chayote squash, apple, and jicama with the avocado dressing. Garnish with some cilantro [coriander] and dill and serve.

–4 servings.

Source: Pati Jinich, https://patijinich.com/

    The next American recipe suggests that, contrary to what we might assume, chokos are not a very common vegetable in the U.S., telling us: “Chayote can be found in some well-stocked grocery stores or most Mexican markets.”

Chayote Salad

“Chayote Salad recipe is made with diced fresh chayote, then combined with green [spring] onions, tomatoes, red bell peppers [capsicums] and basil. You can dress the salad with a simple vinaigrette or even mayonnaise.”

    * 2 each chayote, diced  * 1 medium tomato, diced

    * 4 each spring onions, chopped

    * 1/4 of one whole bell peppers, chopped

    * 1/8 cup basil leaves, julienned

Combine all ingredients in a large salad bowl. Season with vinaigrette or mayonnaise.

–Serves 4 to 6.

Source: Gourmet Sleuth, https://www.gourmetsleuth.com/

If I manage to source a choko I usually just add it to a stir-fry. The big pale green seed in the middle is edible but most people remove it when cooking the vegetable. Halve and peel the choko (watch out, it will feel slimy and tend to shoot out of your hands!) and cut it into slices about 2 mm thick. It will cook quickly like this.

    Here are some more ways of cooking chokos as a tasty side dish or even as a main dish.

    First, here’s a modern Australian stir-fry. One of its readers commented: “This recipe is such a yummy way to eat choko. Thank you so much for adding it. We have a very prolific choko vine.”

Stir-Fried Choko

“A yummy versatile vegetable.”

    * 2 chokoes peeled, sliced  * 2 cloves garlic finely chopped

    * 1/2 tsp oil  * 1 tablesp oyster sauce  *1 tsp sugar

1. Heat oil, add garlic, chokoes, oyster sauce and sugar.

2. Stir fry until cooked and slightly crunchy.

 –4 Servings

Source: mulben, Australia’s Best Recipes, circa 2011,

http://www.bestrecipes.com.au

    Next is a delightfully simple modern American stove-top recipe that really suits the choko’s delicate flavour. If you prefer a contrast, the author offers some variations.

Fried Chayote Squash

(Chayotes Fritos)

“A hard, green, mild squash, the chayote is another wonderful plant native to Mexico. The beauty of the chayote is that it takes on the flavor of whatever seasoning it’s cooked in. Serve on the side of your favorite meat.”

    * 2 chayotes, pitted & thinly sliced  * 2 medium onions, sliced

    * 2 teaspoons dried or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

    * 2 tablespoons butter  * 1 tablespoon olive oil

    * 1/2 teaspoon salt  * 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium heat, until the butter is melted. Add the onions and sauté until they are golden, but not browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the chayote and oregano and sauté an additional 2 or 3 minutes, until the squash starts to soften. Lower the heat, cover, and let cook until the chayote is tender, an additional 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat. Add the salt and pepper and toss before serving.

–Makes 4 to 6 side-dish servings.

Variations: If you want to add a variety of flavors and textures, you can include chopped tomatoes, roasted poblanos [flavoursome green “ancho” chilli peppers, ranging from mild to hot], zucchini, or other vegetables.

Source: Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee. Quick & Easy Mexican Cooking (Chronicle Books, 2011), Epicurious.com,

https://www.epicurious.com/recipes-menus

    Back in the day there were some lovely simple ways of dealing with your garden’s glut of chokos, too:

Buttered Chokos

Slice, boil, drain well. Place in hot serving dish, and pour over melted butter to which salt, cayenne, and finely-chopped parsley have been added. Serve at once.

Source: The Australian Women's Weekly, May 1, 1937

    The next recipe dates from more than 3 decades later, but it’s also delightful and easy to do. Probably in 1971 not all readers of The Australian Women’s Weekly knew what “à la Polonaise” meant, but the name looks good! So does this simple recipe. The scattering of chopped hard-boiled egg and breadcrumbs is in fact adapted from the classic French dish for cauliflower: see “Choux-fleurs”, in the republication of the famous French cookery guide of the turn of the 19th century: “Polonaise. … Parsemer oeuf dur haché et fines herbes. Verser dessus mie de pain colorée au beurre noisette.” (Thomas Gringoire and Louis Saulnier. Le Répertoire de la cuisine. Paris, Flammarion, ©1986, p. 203.)

    Note that “fresh” breadcrumbs here doesn’t mean use fresh bread, it means not toasted:

Chokoes à la Polonaise

    * 4 or 5 chokoes  * 2 hard-boiled eggs

    * 1 tablespoon chopped parsley

    * 1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs

    * 4 oz. [butter or substitute  * salt, pepper

Peel, quarter, and core chokoes. Cook in boiling salted water until tender, then drain. Arrange chokoes in serving dish, sprinkle over chopped eggs, parsley, salt and pepper; keep hot. Melt butter in small frying pan, add breadcrumbs, stir over heat until crumbs are golden brown. Sprinkle over chokoes, serve immediately.

–Serves 6.

Source: The Australian Women’s Weekly, November 24, 1971

    You can also use chokos in patties and fritters. They are watery, so for the second recipe you might want to drain them after grating, following the instructions in the first recipe.

Choko [Patties]

“Make these easy and delicious patties from choko. They're great for lunchboxes.”

    * 4 chokos (or zucchinis)  * 1 large onion  * 3 cloves garlic

    * 2 eggs  * 1 cup plain flour  * 1 cup self-raising flour

    * [parsley]  * [black pepper]  * rice bran oil, for frying

1. Peel and grate chokos (or zucchinis). Sprinkle with salt and leave for approx 15 min so excess water drains.

2. Place eggs, grated or diced onion and garlic [in a bowl with grated chokos] and mix.

3. Add parsley, black pepper, and sifted plain flour and self-raising flour to the choko mix.

4. Mix well and make dessertspoon-sized bites for frying.

5. Fry in rice bran oil until crispy. Serve hot or cold.

Notes: You can add corn to the mixture if desired.

–Makes 12.

Source:  Manjigal, Australia's Best Recipes,

http://www.bestrecipes.com.au

    For a genuine Louisianan-American take on choko fritters, there’s a very long-winded recipe for “Mirliton Corn Fritters”, by Lance Hill, a “mirliton” devotee, which fries them in a cornmeal batter. It’s on the mirliton fanciers’ website at https://www.mirliton.org/

    Pop ’em in the oven? Yes: chokos can be baked in a variety of ways, with or without sauces; or they can be treated as a stuffed vegetable, halved and using the hollow where the seed was to hold a filling or topping.

    This first example is a very simple modern American recipe. True, it’s on the recent “roast that veg or die in the attempt” bandwaggon, but for once I’m not holding that against it. You might want to experiment with how hot you need the oven. (Note that chokos, even the prickly ones, won’t hurt your hands! I presume the “protective gloves” are merely because the peeled veggies are so slimy.)

Roasted Chayotes with Garlic

“If you’ve never tried chayotes, you’re in for a treat. These small, pale green gourds have a light, clean sweetness; they are as juicy as summer squash and as sturdy as winter ones. Roasted with garlic, chayotes become a tender and delicious side dish.”

    * 6 pounds [3 kg] chayotes (mirlitons)

    * 1/2 cup thinly sliced garlic (10 to 12 cloves)

    * 3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 450°F [about 225 C] with racks in upper and lower thirds.

Wearing protective gloves, halve chayotes lengthwise and discard seeds. Peel, then cut lengthwise into 1-inch wedges. Toss with oil and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Divide between 2 large 4-sided sheet pans.

Roast 30 minutes. Divide garlic between pans, then continue to roast, turning occasionally, until chayotes are golden brown on edges, about 30 minutes more. Season with salt.

–Makes 8 servings.

Source: Lillian Chou, Gourmet, November 2008, Epicurious.com,

https://www.epicurious.com/recipes-menus

Here are two much older recipes that bake chokos with sauce. They’re perhaps a bit heavy on the dairy fats, but just don’t serve them with a fatty meat dish. I think they’re both delicious.

    As with all these old recipes, I’ve reformatted them but given the wording verbatim, including the spelling! I’d omit the sugar from this first one, and for 5 or 6 good-sized chokos, use more sour cream for the sauce. Sour cream was new and daring in the Antipodes in the 1970s—I remember that lots of older cooks were put off by the word “sour”—and it’s very interesting to see it crop up here. In those days, still the heyday of the women’s magazines, the Weekly was quite up with the play!

Chokoes In Sour Cream

    * 5 or 6 chokoes  * 1 onion  * 1/2 cup sour cream

    * 1 tablespoon lemon juice  * 1/2 teaspoon sugar

    * 1 tablespoon chopped parsley  * 1 oz. [30 g] butter or substitute

    * salt, pepper

Peel and quarter chokoes, remove cores. Cook in boiling salted water until chokoes are just tender; drain and keep hot. Melt butter in saucepan, saute finely chopped onion 5 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat, stir in sour cream, lemon juice, salt, pepper, sugar, and parsley. Arrange chokoes in ovenproof serving dish, pour sauce over. Cook, uncovered, in moderate oven 15 to 20 minutes, or until sauce and chokoes are hot.

–Serves 6.

Source: The Australian Women's Weekly, November 24, 1971

    Along with the new trends, the Weekly of course still published lots of recipes in the good old established traditions. Cheese sauce, whether or not you get a bit fancy and call it “Mornay”, has been a hugely popular addition to vegetables in the Antipodes for decades. You still see lots and lots of “new” recipes on both the Australian and New Zealand cookery databases using grated cheese—nearly always the traditional British-style cheddar, but now and then today’s home cooks go overboard with European cheeses. This second recipe from 1971 would undoubtedly have used cheddar. Again, “fresh” breadcrumbs just means not ready-toasted ones.

Chokoes Mornay

    * 4 medium chokoes;  * boiling salted water

    * 2 oz. [60 g] butter or substitute  * 3 tablespoons flour

    * 3/4 pint [450 ml] milk  * 2 oz. [60 g] cheese

    * 1 teaspoon dry mustard  * salt, pepper

    * 1 oz. [30 g] butter or substitute extra

    * 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs

Peel, quarter and core chokoes. Cook in boiling salted water until almost tender, then drain. Place chokoes in ovenproof dish and keep warm.

Melt butter in saucepan, stir in flour, mustard, salt and pepper, cook 1 minute. Remove from heat, gradually stir in milk.

Return to heat, continue stirring until sauce boils and thickens.

Add grated cheese, stir until cheese melts. Pour over chokoes.

Melt extra butter in saucepan, add soft breadcrumbs; mix well.

Sprinkle these buttered crumbs over cheese sauce. Cook, uncovered, in moderate oven 20 to 25 minutes or until crumbs are golden.

–Serves 5 or 6.

Source: The Australian Women’s Weekly, November 24, 1971

    Chokos may also be halved and baked with a stuffing or topping, making use of the natural hollow where the seed was. Two brief ones from 1937 bake them using sausage meat as the basis of the filling. Here’s a very simple but tasty modern Australian recipe using cheese and bacon. The recipe boils and then grills them, but you could parboil them and finish by baking them if preferred.

Chokos Deluxe

“Even people who normally don’t like these vegetables enjoy them this way! Delicious with grills and barbeques.”

    * 1 choko  * 1 bacon rasher, chopped, rindless

    * 1 tsp cheese grated

1. Peel chokos, cut in half and remove seeds with a spoon.

2. Cook in boiling salted water until tender. Drain well.

3. Place on foil covered grill tray, then sprinkle bacon on the hollow left from deseeding.

4. Grill for a few minutes to cook bacon, then top with cheese and grill until cheese is melted and browned.

–1 Serving.

Source: sandyann, Australia’s Best Recipes,

http://www.bestrecipes.com.au

    If you’re looking for a more elaborate modern recipe, the big American website, Gourmet Sleuth, has one for chokos stuffed with a mixture based on prawns (“shrimp”) and crabmeat: “Creole Style Stuffed Chayote”. Delicious for those who like seafood, but quite expensive!

Ever since chokos were first cultivated in those suburban back yards, the home cooks of Australasia have been using them in pickles and relishes. These crop up under various names, sometimes as “chutney”, but the recipes I found, whether old or new, fall into two categories: versions of the relish known as “piccalilli”, where the chokos take the place of the traditional cucumber, and, less common, simple pickles in the style of the well-known dill pickles.

    A piccalilli-type relish is distinguished by its yellow colouring and the use of a flour and water mixture to thicken the liquid. If you’ve ever made the true piccalilli, you’ll recognise the technique here:

Choko Pickles

    * Nine chokos  * 3 lb. [1 1/2 kg] small onions  * 1 cup plain flour

    * 1 cup sugar  * 1 dessertspoon mustard [powder]

    * 1 dessertspoon allspice  * 1 dessertspoon turmeric

    * 1 dessertspoon curry powder  * 1 teaspoon cayenne

    * 1 1/2 pints [900 ml] vinegar

Cut chokos and onions into small pieces. Boil 2 quarts [2400 ml] water with 1/2 lb [225 g] salt, skim, and pour boiling liquid over chokos and onions, and stand overnight. Next day drain, place vinegar in an enamel saucepan, add blended flour, sugar, spices etc. Boil 15 minutes, add chokos and onions. Boil 20 minutes. Bottle and cork tightly. Store in a cool place.

Source: The Australian Women's Weekly, May 1, 1937

Choko Chutney

“Fabulous with a ploughman’s lunch, or just on a sandwich with corned meat. Keeps for about one year in a cool dark place.”

* 1 kg chokoes  * 3 onion medium, peeled, thinly sliced

* 1 1/2 tablesp salt  * 12 whole cloves  * 12 peppercorns

* 1 tsp mixed spice  *1 tablesp curry powder  * 3-1/2 cup white vinegar

* 1 cup golden syrup  *1 tablesp mustard powder

* 1 tablesp plain flour  *2 tablesp cold water

1. Peel and chop chokos. Place chokos and onion in a large bowl, sprinkle with salt, mix well to ensure everything is well coated, cover and leave at room temperature overnight.

2. Drain and discard the liquid.

3. Tie the cloves and peppercorns in a square of muslin to secure. Place the vinegar, muslin bag, mixed spice and syrup in a large saucepan and bring to the boil.

4. Add the choko and onions, cook for 20 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat, throw away muslin bag.

5. Combine the mustard and plain flour in a small bowl, blend with water. Add to the choko mixture stirring constantly.

6. Bring to the boil, simmer for 10 minutes. Allow to stand for 15 minutes.

7. Ladle into cleaned, warm and dry jars. Seal and store in a cool dark place.

Notes: This is also great to serve with crackers as a dip.

–10 Servings [jars].

Source: savana, Australia’s Best Recipes,

http://www.bestrecipes.com.au

    The next recipe is a modern New Zealand one which offers a variation on the more usual style of choko relish, by adding tinned pineapple.

    Gee, a new idea? No! In “New ways to use chokoes” published in The Australian Women’s Weekly on June 17, 1964, the winner of the weekly £5 prize for the best cookery contribution offered “a series of recipes devoted to the choko—an economical vegetable that is plentiful at this time of the year.” The “hints” she provided included this:

    “Chokoes are a good basis for pickles: try adding a can of pineapple pieces to your next batch for a new and interesting flavor.”

    Here’s the modern recipe:

Choko Pickle Recipe

“Chokos are green prickly things which look a bit like a pear.”

    * 6 choko  * 3 cups sugar  * 2 large onions

    * 1 canned crushed pineapple  * 2 tablesp salt

    * 2 tablesp turmeric  * 3 tablesp mustard  * vinegar

    * 1 1/4 cups flour

1. Peel chokos if needed, cut up very fine or mince. Add chopped onions.

2. Sprinkle sugar over and stand a while. If liquid forms, drain off, but keep in case it is needed later.

3. Add pineapple, salt, turmeric and mustard with vinegar to almost cover. Boil slowly 1 hour.

4. Remove about 3 cups vinegar and set aside to cool.

5. Mix the vinegar with the flour and pour slowly back into the pot while stirring to thicken the pickle, adding other liquid if needed.

6. Bottle while hot and seal with wax when cold.

Source: Wendyl Nissen, for NZ Woman’s Weekly, in Eat Well,

https://www.eatwell.co.nz/

    Never mind the terms used, none of the recipes we’ve seen so far are true pickles. This one is, using a classic pickling method. (“Bread and Butter Pickles” was a common term for simple pickles up to about this time.)

Bread and Butter Chokoes

    * 2 or 3 young chokoes  * 1 cup white vinegar

    * 1/4 cup water  * 2 tablespoons sugar

    * 1 teaspoon mustard seeds  * salt

Peel, quarter, and core chokoes, slice very thinly. Arrange in layers in large shallow dish, sprinkle a little salt between each layer (about 2 tablespoons salt in all). Cover, stand overnight.

Next day, wash chokoes well in cold water, drain, set aside. In saucepan, combine vinegar, water, sugar, mustard seeds, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, bring to boil; reduce heat, simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes. Add chokoes, bring to boil, boil 2 minutes, remove from heat. Pack choko slices into hot sterilised jars, fill with vinegar mixture, seal.

Source: The Australian Women's Weekly, November 24, 1971

There’s a longstanding Antipodean tradition of using chokos instead of other, dearer or less readily available vegetables or fruits. Versions of piccalilli using chokos instead of cucumbers aren’t surprising, but much odder substitutes were around. Chokos’ natural flavour is so mild that Aussie home cooks found they could do almost anything with them. And somewhat unfortunately, they did.

    Chokos were used as a fruit substitute in dessert dishes. Wikipedia’s article on “Chayote” ascribes the so-called Australian “urban myth” that McDonald’s apple pies are made from chokos (they aren’t) to “an earlier belief that tinned pears were often disguised chayotes.” I don’t know what went into the tins but the use of chokos as mock pears was NOT just a “belief.” It really happened: it was a classic case of what the article calls “the economies of ‘mock’ food substitutes during the Depression Era.”

    Pears, presumably dearer and less common than apples in Australia then, could certainly be faked by using chokos! Here’s the very Depression-era recipe:

Mock Pears

“Chokos are not an expensive vegetable, and with a little ingenuity, many economical and tasty dishes may be evolved from them.

    “The first prize winner this week sends a recipe that will be gratefully received by every reader who has a choko vine in the garden. …”

MOCK PEARS.

Cut six chokos into halves or quarters. Place in saucepan and cover with cold water and two tablespoons of sugar. Boil slowly until tender, then drain off all water.

To make syrup, take one pint of water and add two tablespoons of sugar, a few cloves, a piece of lemon peel and the juice of one lemon. Simmer until part of the syrup boils away and it becomes syrup color [sic], slightly pink. Strain and pour over the already cooked chokos. If desired a little ginger can also be boiled in the syrup. When served they are just like stewed pears.

First prize of £1 to Mrs T W. Villiers, 14 John St, Ashfield. N.S.W.

Source: The Australian Women’s Weekly, May 26, 1934

    The recipe dates, of course, from a time when choko vines were almost as common as tree tomatoes (tamarillos) in Australian and New Zealand back gardens. In many modern Australian gardens the choko vine has probably gone the way of the tree tomato: razed to make way for either the swimming pool or the paved and gravelled garden-designer “rooms” with their horrid mondo grass edgings. But those who still have a choko vine will know that the things rampage! And the comments on Australia’s Best Recipes show us that the owners of these rampantly fruiting vines are pathetically grateful for some ideas on how to cook them.

    By the Sixties life in general had become easier, most people were more affluent, and a reasonable variety of foodstuffs was available to the Antipodean housewife—but people still had veggie gardens, practised economies, and were wary of waste. The article “New ways to use chokoes” in The Australian Women’s Weekly of June 17, 1964, offers choko skins masquerading as beans, sliced chokos pretending to be beetroot (yep!), and, of course, a desperate housewife’s solution for a different pickle, in the days when back yards were choked with chokos, and tinned pineapple was cheap and readily available in Australia.

    Mock pears hadn’t vanished over the previous thirty years, and “Mock Pears”, one of the two stars of this 1964 article, is a jellied version of this culinary delight. It’s much more elaborate than the recipe from the 1930s, and includes as well as a touch of ginger, “1 cup chopped mixture of nuts, raisins, dates, and any other fruits desired”, with cloves, lemon rind and vanilla for flavour.

    By now fridges were common in Australian households, and jellies of all sorts had become immensely popular with home cooks. The other starring recipe is also a jellied dessert, “Jellied Cocktail Dessert,” incorporating raspberry cordial! Sorry, I can’t bring myself to repeat either of them here, but I can let you have the recipes if you like: email me at katywiddop@gmail.com. The valiant Mrs McVicar got £5 for providing these contributions—not at all a bad sum when you consider the wages of the time. I remember I rashly spent £9 on a “permanently pleated” skirt at this period—a huge outlay, my entire weekly wage as a Public Service cadet in New Zealand.

    Chokos can also be used as a base for jam or marmalade, and in cakes or sweet loaves. Today’s cooks seem to be eschewing the jam, but they’re still baking with chokos! I had already seen cake recipes with grated zucchinis, and the two recipes I found on Australia’s Best Recipes, “Choko Loaf” and “Choko Walnut Loaf” (both with walnuts) use chokos in the same way.

    I’ll end with what’s got to be the zenith of the push to use the humble back-yard choko in a sweet concoction: it’s a modern recipe from Australia:

Choko Lemon Meringue Pie

“A tasty way to use chokos. This pie tastes like an authentic lemon meringue pie.”

* 1 shortcrust pastry case, cooked

Filling:

* 2 chokoes  * 3 tablesp sugar  * 1 lemon juiced  * 1 lemon rind

* 2 tablesp cornflour  *1 egg yolks

Topping:

* 1 egg white  * 2 tablesp sugar

1. Filling: Boil, strain and blend chokos.

2. Add sugar, juice and rind of lemon and place back on the heat.

3. Add cornflour and egg yolk blended with a little water, and stir until thickened.

4. Place in pie shell.

5. Topping: Make a meringue using the egg white and sugar.

6. Place meringue onto the filling and bake at 220C until the meringue is lightly browned.

Notes: For the topping, 2 egg whites and 4 tablespoons sugar may be used, if desired. Serve warm or cold. I used cooked pie crust.

Source: MarilynG, Australia’s Best Recipes,

http://www.bestrecipes.com.au

    The reader “tuckermucker” wrote of this recipe with huge approval: “I followed the instructions exactly as written and it turned out perfectly. I used a frozen sweet pastry tart shell and the quantities of filling from the recipe were precisely the right amount. Taste wise it was exquisite, very tangy and texturally I thought it was better than a ‘proper’ Lemon Meringue Tart. Thanks for sharing.”

    She may well be right. I don’t like the sickly, over-sweet, custardy base of the classic Lemon Meringue Pie, so if I had a rampaging choko vine I might be tempted to give this one a go!