Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cheating with Fruit.

There is an apocryphal story of an Australian who visited Louisiana, and, having been told that the local specialty was ‘mirliton’, ordered it in a restaurant. After the usual anticipatory interval, the dish arrived – to be met with disgust by the Aussie who immediately noted that this delicacy was, in fact, ‘bloody choko!’

Sechium edule, a.k.a choko, mirliton, sayote, tayota, choko, chocho, chow-chow, christophine, and vegetable pear, is a native of Central and South America. It was perpetrated upon Australia at some time early in the country’s history, and there are some who believe that if the identity of the importer is ever found, then retrospective retribution will be applied. The choko grows on a vine, and to say that it is quick-growing and prolific in its country of adoption are understatements of great magnitude.

The particularly tenacious vine has a favoured tethering post in Australia. It is an accepted fact in this country that the sole purpose in life of the choko plant is to grow over (and therefore partially camouflage) the ‘dunny’ (the outside toilet shed). Its growth rate is so spectacularly rapid that it has entered the language as a metaphor for something happening ‘quicker than a choko vine growing over an outhouse.’ The ‘free’ fruit, in perennial back-yard surplus, was used in everything and anything, to the extent that for several generations of Australians, it represented far too much of a not-very good thing.

It stands to reason that any plant as ubiquitous and utilitarian (and intrinsically tasteless) as the choko, although it may not be despised, exactly, is not going to be loved in a gourmet-sort of way. In Australia, familiarity from the contemplative position of the dunny throne has led, if not to contempt, to lack of enthusiasm. Added to that is the ineradicable belief in the country that canned ‘pears’ were in fact cheating chokoes. More recently this has led to a similar accusation in relation to McDonald’s ‘apple’ pies. Whether or not the substitution actually happened at a commercial level, the story is testament to the very bland nature of the fruit.

The demise of the outdoor ‘dunny’ has meant that chokos are now actually purchased from greengrocers and supermarkets. Multiple generations of previous Australians are no doubt rolling their dead eyes in amusement and astonishment at the thought of people willingly parting with hard-earned money for the fruit of the dunny vine.

The mock pear story has some truth in it. I found the following recipe as proof. It was probably served as dessert at the same meal as corned beef, boiled chokos with white sauce (ersatz cauliflower), and choko chutney (no substitute for mango!). I wonder if there was choko cake?

Mock Pears.
Peel some chokoes, take out the seed pith, cut lengthwise into four, and put in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Add three tablespoonsfuls of sugar, juice of half a lemon, and a few drops of cochineal. Boil slowly till tender; serve with sauce or custard.
The Truth and Daily Mirror Cookery Book, c1943.

Quotation for the Day …

Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.
Jim Davis.


SometimesKate said...

At first I was thinking you were talking about zucchini, which grow like mad here in Illinois, and I suspect in most of the US. But after poking about a bit more, I can honestly say I've never seen one of those before in my entire life. Looks about as appetizing as a jicama.

Liz + Louka said...

I actually made something delicious from chokoes once! It was an Indian recipe where the chokoes were cut into 2cm or so cubes and deep fried in a very spicy besan (chickpea flour) batter. The contrast of the tasteless but juicy and crisp chokoes with the tasty batter was wonderful.

The Old Foodie said...

Liz - Hmmm. Not sure that counts. Anything in besan batter, deep fried, would be good!

Anonymous said...

Chokos, Yuk! Here on Oz, they are only good for killing Lantana, another great weed the Poms gave us, along with Foxs and Rabbits. Chuck a few Chokos into a thick mass of Lantana in the wet season and it choked to death in a month!
The Choko is appetising as a sundryed Cain Toad!