"This Aztec chayotli is like a hedghog.... The fruit is eaten cooked and is sold in the markets everywhere"
--Francisco Hernandez, Spanish explorer, in his 16th century Latin journals

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(Sechium edule)

Aka vegetable pear, mirliton, pepinello, and choko, the chayote is a lovely pear-shaped vegetable with a delicate, nutty taste that originated in tropical America and was eaten with pleasure by the Aztecs and Mayas. Today it grows all over the world, including Australia, Italy, Spain, Indonesia, and Algeria. In China its name means "Buddha's hands," the pear shape looking like hands clasped in prayer--similarly, the New Orlean's "mirliton" means "reed pipe," suggesting the shape of children's hands cupped to stretch a blade of grass and blow shrill music through it.

It's a member of the gourd family, related to squash and cucumbers, and it grows on trailing vines in mild climates. But it sure doesn't look like a gourd. Mostly we find it in markets as a smooth, ridged, pale green fruit--but it comes in varietals that are covered in prickly hair and that range in color from creamy white to dark green.

Interestingly, this perennial (only in warm climes) sends up shoots in the spring that can be boiled and served like asparagus; its leaves can be eaten as salad greens; and its root--a huge, heavy thing--can be cooked and used as you would cook and use yams.