Remember Audrey II? The singing and talking plant in the Little Shop of Horrors? That plant, a blood-thirsty carnivore on stage and screen, burst through walls and ceilings when it was having a Big Mac Attack. The chayote squash vine may not sing and dance, but it does behave like it mainlines Miracle Gro.
To recap. Last April, in the spirit of adventure and experimental research, a chayote squash was planted (Food Section, May 6) at the corner of my carport.
This squash, a staple in Latin American cuisine, will grow 60 feet tall with each vine producing 100 little green squashes in the humid jungles of Jamaica or Brazil. If there, why not here? My yard is a humid jungle in August.
A chayote from a local Latin market was planted whole, half in and half out of the ground. It hummed quietly for three weeks before making its move. A tiny crack appeared in the top as we drove away for a four-day trip. When we returned, the chayote was 12 inches tall -- three inches a day.
That was just the beginning. It outstripped its little chicken-wire cubicle, reached for the carport roof, didn't like the gutter, curled back toward the ground and headed for the neighbor's house. A extension ladder was hoisted, the chayote vine was dragged up and tossed to the roof of the carport where it leaped again for the sun.
It was magnificent. Except for one thing. My chayote vine failed to flower and thus failed to produce my awaited crop of 100 little chayotes.
What did develop was a brisk correspondence with Tolbert V. Feather, Ph.D, landscape expert and Frederick, Md., chayote aficionado. Tolbert, married to a Brazilian, had made his own experiments with chayotes and had met the same results. (At least, it wasn't my stupidity.)
"We looked for blossoms every day and to our disappointment there were none. The vines were beautiful until the first hard frost," he wrote.
Feather is not ready to give up. "There is hope. There are selections or cultivars of chayote that are propagated by cuttings. I am sure if we could get funding from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture or the National Science Foundation we could breed a chayote that would bear fruit in 3 or 4 months."
Feather and I will work on our grant applications over the winter. In the meantime, here is one of Feather's favorite chayote recipes.
CHUCHU CHAYOTE STIR-FRY (4 servings)
Chuchu is the Brazilian word for chayote. It translates as abundant and refers to the excessive growth of the vine. Feather and his wife still must depend on the Latin markets for their supply of chuchus. Brazilians recommend slicing the squash under cold water to prevent hands from becoming stained.
3 chayotes, peeled, grated or very finely sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 scallions, chopped, including green tops
1 clove garlic, peeled, flattened
1 small hot Chinese pepper (about 1/2 inch long)
Salt to taste
Soak grated chayote in cold water about 30 minutes. Drain, pat dry. Heat oil in a large frying pan or wok. Saute' onion and garlic quickly, about 1 minute. Add chayote and fry quickly until cooked but still firm. Add hot pepper and salt to taste.