Chaote squash

Chaote squash can provide a mountain of food for hungry bellies; it is relatively high in protein and especially vitamin C. In South Africa it's known as the susu; also as choko and chou in other parts of the world.

Most of us have been put off one food or another simply because of a bad experience in childhood. That may be because it was long passed its sell-by date in the shop or had been reaped when it was already too old; or simply badly cooked.

Chaote squash grows prolifically.

That was my experience with two pet hates; broad beans and susus. In both cases it was a bad mistake. I never touched them again for half a century.

Last year friends gave us two susus that were sprouting, one prickly, the other smooth. Despite my protestations the good wife planted them; they grew prolifically and we’ve been eating them for a month or more. What a surprise, reaped when young and cooked properly this is a delicious, nutritious food that should be in every garden.

Each vine produces an abundance, at a guess at least 50 fruit over a period of say two or three months.

Chaote fruit halves.

Coming from Central America it is known as “Chayote.” It can be enjoyed raw when reaped young, often marinaded with lime juice or Balsamic vinegar overnight in a salad. It can be fried in butter or olive oil, steamed and makes a wonderful filler for any soup or stew. We have enjoyed one almost every day for the last 6 weeks, and there are still more than 20 on each plant.

According to Wikipedia it is a great source of protein and vitamin C[1]; absolutely essential daily for many enzyme reactions in the body. If granny is deficient, frailty will set in long before its time[2]. Younger people will get colds and flu and experience aches and pains; and feel constantly tired. If the shortage is dire then it will be scurvy, the disease that killed so many sailors.

Plant the gourd once the fruit begins to sprout, 3/4 in the ground with a quarter above. Allow it to climb up a small adjacent tree; near a Eucalypt you will never be able to reap them. Autumn is the season to do it; by this time next year you will have at least a 50x yield for your trouble, a season of mellow fruitfulness.

They can be generally found at Farmers’ markets for under R10; ask for an old one that is sprouting to plant.

Planting chaote squash, also known as susu.

It’s a rather ugly plant sprawling over other small trees like a Camellia or citrus. The house-proud might have difficulties but for those who are struggling to feed the family, this is truly a miracle food; and so easy to grow.  

Basket of susus.

Notice that some are smooth-skinned and others very prickly. Nutritionally I suspect they are similar but perhaps best to have one of each growing in your green garden; then you are assured of a good meal for three months of the year.

It does demand some imaginative cooking though.

Susu has a very mild flavour and frankly needs to be dickied up with onions, garlic and peppers; and your favourite herbs and spices. Slice into the craters that run along the length of the fruit with a heavy knife and peel away the skin; and any hard bits when the fruit is older. The seed is good.

I have written before that I personally have a hiatus hernia and have to be careful with what I eat for supper. One of the great surprises is what a soothing action the susu has on my stomach; rarely is there any heartburn after I go to bed. Treat that as an anecdote but it's worth a thought if you are often reaching for antacids.

Wikipedia reports that it has diuretic, cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory properties too.

Ten million South African children go to bed hungry every night; it’s an indictment on every level of society that we care so little and do almost nothing. Half a dozen susus planted every autumn would do a great deal to alleviate the stunting that affects nearly a third of our offspring.

Add to that a couple rows of green beans in summer and favas in winter; mealies and spinach or kale. The problem is three-quarters solved.

We often have susu now in Eggs Hilton when they are in season. On a slice of our homemade sourdough bread every day, I reckon at a push one could survive; hungry certainly, but not stunted. Everything shown bar a sliver of onion was grown in our green garden.   

Chaote stew.

It really is possible to grow more than half your food in an average garden; the trend amongst greenies is to dig out the lawn. And if you can get the wheat directly from the farmer then you can bake a loaf of the most nutritious bread in South Africa for only R6 per loaf; it contains all the wheatgerm and bran.

Bread machine loaf.

Use what's in season

We try to use what's in season and food that is available from our green garden, even if it is not called for in recipes. For example, sweet-potatoes have been hit this year by a nasty weevil so we have substituted them with chaote squash in our butternut soups; it tastes and is just as nutritious.

Chaote squash makes a wonderful filler for this Holy Grail soup.

Since it has a very mild flavour, some people call it tasteless, we often use herbs such as the thyme seen above.

Another very easy herb, lemongrass has the wonderful flavour of Thai-cooking; it will enhance any chaote squash dish.

Cut off the lemongrass bulbs; they are very woody.

Chaote squash

Chaote squash can be enjoyed marinated in a salad or cooked in a stew.

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