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Gardener and Gourmet Newsletter

Want to know what’s good in the market right now? We evaluate seasonal produce, and spotlight the best.

Until recently, the chayote was unknown outside the Sunbelt. This pear-shaped member of the squash family grows only in hot, tropical climates. In January, chayotes imported from Mexico make their appearance, and this year's crop is a fine one. Known to Creole cooks as "mirliton," the chayote is a versatile vegetable.

Look for green fruits as firm as a baseball. Brown spots or irregularities on the skin are OK, but reject fruits with soft spots. Like their cousins the winter squashes, chayotes keep well at room temperature, but may sprout. Use sprouting fruits immediately.

On inspection, you will see that the chayote can easily be split lengthwise to yield two halves, not unlike an avocado. The large, edible seed can be chopped, even toasted, and used as a garnish for the finished dish. More often, it is simply eaten as a snack by the cook.

If you have sensitive skin, the milky sap just underneath the peel of the chayote may cause mild irritation. No doubt, this is why most recipes for preparing this vegetable call for it to be cooked first, usually in halves. Simply split the fruit with a knife, remove the seed (a melon baller helps get out any pith), and rinse under the tap before dropping the halves into boiling, salted water. Simmer gently until the flesh can easily be pierced with a fork, about half to three quarters of an hour, depending upon size. Cooking, incidentally, destroys the irritating substance in the skin of the chayote.

Plunge the chayote into cold water to stop the cooking. You may then scoop out the flesh with a spoon, reserving the shell as a cook-and-serve container for the finished dish, or simply peel the skin away with a paring knife and discard it. Slice or chop the flesh as your recipe requires. Cooked, the chayote will remain in perfect condition in the refrigerator for up to three days. Store tightly covered. Chayote's flavor has an affinity for cheese and seafood.

A great nutritional bargain is waiting for you this month. Sweet potatoes no doubt saved many a poor Southern family from a lean winter. They store well, taste good, and are a rich source of vitamins to help the body fight the stresses of cold, short days. Select undamaged roots and store them in a cool, dry, airy place. Reluctant to sprout again until the days lengthen and the weather promises uninterrupted heat, sweet potatoes keep quite well in a basket on a shelf in the kitchen all winter.

Like the chayote, sweet potatoes are best cooked in their skins before using them in recipes. Peeled, they darken quickly on exposure to air. This does not interfere with their taste or texture, but their coloration becomes rather unappetizing. Wash, then drop the whole roots into boiling, salted water and cook until they are tender. Better yet, smear them with vegetable oil and pierce with a fork to allow steam to escape. Bake whole in a preheated 350 degree oven until tender, about 30 to 45 minutes. When cooled a bit, the cooked potatoes are easy to skin and the flesh can be incorporated into a variety of delicious recipes. Baked sweet potatoes are also a delight simply eaten hot with butter and simple garnishes as one would eat an Idaho potato. The sweetness of this vegetable pairs perfectly with ham, nuts, raisins, citrus and various sweet spices.

> Gratin of Chayote

Gardener and Gourmet Newsletter
January 7, 1999 Vol. 2, No. 1
Copyright (C) 1999, John H. Tullock. All rights reserved.
Published twice a month by Gardener and Gourmet,
3405 East Red Bud Drive, Knoxville, TN 37920-3655
(423) 573-0373

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