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Mirliton From the Garden to the Table

Mirlitons, Chayote or Vegetable Pears

A mirliton that's almost ready to pick.
A mirliton that's almost ready to pick. | Source

Growing and Eating Mirlitons (Sechium edule)

In south Louisiana, especially the New Orleans area, we are serious about our mirlitons. Mirliton plants are handed down from father to son and/or daughter and recipes are handed down from mother to daughter and/or son. The growing and cooking of the vegetable pear is part of our tradition and heritage and knowledge is shared across the generations.

Mirliton is what we call them in Louisiana. Other names include vegetable pear, mango squash, chayote, choko and a few other colorful names. The word is pronounced, "MEL-a-tahn" (with a short e). If you are visiting New Orleans, you may hear some one say, "Would ya like a helping of my stuffed MEL-a-tahns, dawlin?" Your answer would be, "yes", because they are delicious.

In this hub, I am going to treat you like one of the family and will show you how to successfully grow mirlitons. I will also pass on some of the recipes that Dottie, my dear, departed Mother-in-law shared with me. She was a native New Orleanian of Italian and Irish heritage and an excellent cook.



Plenty of Vegetable Pears

Dottie with a few of the mirlitons that we grew one year.
Dottie with a few of the mirlitons that we grew one year. | Source

Mirliton Poll

Have you eaten a mirliton?

  • Yes, I enjoy them very much.
  • Yes, but we call it by another name.
  • A what?... Never heard of it.
  • No, I've never tried mirlitons.
  • Mirlitons... yuck!
See results without voting

Growing Mirlitons

Mirliton sprouting in winter greenhouse.
Mirliton sprouting in winter greenhouse. | Source
Late spring rains help the vines grow well.
Late spring rains help the vines grow well. | Source
In September the male and female flowers appear.  This is a female flower.
In September the male and female flowers appear. This is a female flower. | Source
The flower drops off and the young mirliton begins to grow.
The flower drops off and the young mirliton begins to grow. | Source

How to Grow Mirlitons

First you get a few mirlitons that were grown in the area. Before Hurricane Katrina, every other backyard in the New Orleans area (which included the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain) had a mirliton vine growing. But, the "New Orleans" stock of mirlitons was almost lost after Hurricane Katrina. Some from the Northshore and surrounding suburbs were saved and now are repopulating the crop.

The Chayotes that are found in the supermarket, just don't do well in south Louisiana. The stock that has been growing here for over 50 years is acclimated to the climate and soil conditions.

Mirlitons will start sprouting from the seed inside as they age in the fall. I always keep 3 to 4 and put them in large (2-3 gallon) pots in a frost free place like a greenhouse. Lay it sideways in the pot and cover the mirliton with soil. The roots will grow from the end where the sprout comes out. Keep it moist. By spring, the vine should be 3 or 4 feet long.

When the weather warms up and there is no chance of frost, it's time to plant the mirliton plant in the garden. Position it near a fence or trellis, because the vines will grow 20 feet long (or more) by fall.

Dig a hole, about 2 feet deep and 2 feet wide. Mix compost or well rotted manure with the existing soil in the bottom of the hole. Plant the mirliton so that the roots are covered and the bottom of the vine (the crown) is just above the soil line. Form a slight indentation around the plant so that the water will be held and will soak in.

Mirlitons are heavy feeders and like moist, well drained soil. They seem to do better with morning sun. They produce in cool weather.

If the weather cooperates, the male and female flowers should start blooming in September. From October until the first freeze, you will be harvesting many mirlitons.

It is not uncommon for each plant to produce over 100 fruits. That's why most New Orleanians have many mirliton recipes.

Mirliton - Sechium edule

Botanical sketch of a mirliton vine and fruit.
Botanical sketch of a mirliton vine and fruit. | Source

Vegetable Pear Anatomy

As you can see, the seed sprouts inside the mirliton, so the whole vegetable pear is like a giant seed.

The male flowers are on a separate stem than the female flowers. The female flowers form the fruit. The flowers are pale creamy white and translucent.

In mild winters and protected areas, the plants will often come back the next spring.

Mirliton Flowers

Male flower at top of photo and female with fruit is at the bottom.
Male flower at top of photo and female with fruit is at the bottom. | Source

Ya'll Want Some Stuffed Mirlitons?

Stuffed Mirlitons are a traditional south Louisiana holiday dish.
Stuffed Mirlitons are a traditional south Louisiana holiday dish. | Source

Dottie's Stuffed Mirlitons Recipe

Ingredients:
4 mirlitons
1 to 1 1/4 cup soft Italian breadcrumbs
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 pound shrimp (or ham or ground meat) coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
a Dash of black pepper
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
1 sprig thyme
1/8 cup buttered bread crumbs

Directions:
Simmer the mirlitons in salted water until tender (about 1 to 1 1/4 hours). (You can cook them whole or cut them in half before cooking.) Remove from the heat, drain and reserve about 1 cup of the boiling water. Cut the mirlitons in half, if you cooked them whole; remove the seeds and carefully spoon out the pulp. (Dottie just put her stuffing into a casserole dish, but many people stuff the mirliton shells.) Set the shells aside if you want to stuff them.

Chop up the pulp and add Italian bread crumbs. Sauté onions, garlic and shrimp or meat of your choice in butter or olive oil over medium heat until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Mix in pulp mixture, salt and pepper; continue cooking for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. (If it is too dry, add a little of the reserved mirliton boiling water.) Cool a little and add parsley and thyme and mix thoroughly.

Fill vegetable shells or shallow casserole dish with pulp mixture and sprinkle tops with buttered bread crumbs. Bake in 375 degree F oven for 25 minutes. Serves 8.

My Own Variation: Add 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese with the parsley and thyme mixture and sprinkle a little Parmesan on top with the buttered breadcrumbs.

Boiling the Mirlitons

Harvest Time

A Mirliton and other vegetables
A Mirliton and other vegetables | Source

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Well Dawlin', Tell Us What You Thought. 14 comments

J.A. Brown profile image

J.A. Brown 5 years ago from Costa Rica (for the moment)

Oh, my goodness!!! I have lived in Costa Rica for the past 10 years and never even knew people knew about these wonderful vegetables up north!! Here, they call them chayotes, and they are one of my favorite things to cook. I'll post some recipes from down here, you'll love them, and I bet you've never seen them, because they're normally in Spanish!! Thanks for the post, great recipes that I'll have to try out, too!


J.A. Brown profile image

J.A. Brown 5 years ago from Costa Rica (for the moment)

Oh, and one thing you might find interesting. Here, chayota/mirlitons are often grown on rooftops! Frequently, in the poorer areas, the roofs are made of a zinc laminate material, and if a family lives in the city, they'll make a garden by bolstering the roof and putting a layer of soil up there to plant some things. Chayote, ayote (a kind of squash, like a cross between a zucchini and yellow squash, which is very yummy), and a few other things. They grow very well practically anywhere, and put out several crops per year in our tropical climate.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

Wow...I have purchased them in grocery stores but have never tried growing them. They are so good and the recipe you included sounds like a winner. Thanks!


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 5 years ago from United States

I have lived in Texas now for 18 years and never heard of these--but chayote sounds more familiar. I love learning about new dishes. Thanks!


naturegirl7 profile image

naturegirl7 5 years ago from South Louisiana Author

J.A. Brown, Thanks for the comments. Yes, Louisiana, the northern most "banana republic", has been growing and eating mirlitons (chayotes) for many years.

That's very interesting about the roof top gardens. Part of sustainable gardening is to use the vertical space and the poor in Costa Rica have been doing it out of necessity. We should take a lesson from them.


naturegirl7 profile image

naturegirl7 5 years ago from South Louisiana Author

Peggy W and VirginiaLynne, Thanks for your comments. Chayote or vegetable pear is the more recognized name, except here in Louisiana. We strive to always be "unique". ;)


Silver Poet profile image

Silver Poet 5 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

Fascinating. Simply fascinating. I had never even heard of these. I'm glad they were able to be saved and grown again after Katrina.


davenmidtown profile image

davenmidtown 5 years ago from Sacramento, California

What a great hub! I have seen these in the market and always wondered what they were. Thanks to you, I now know. I will have to try to plant some next year.


naturegirl7 profile image

naturegirl7 5 years ago from South Louisiana Author

Silver Poet, Thanks for the comment. Yes, we were so happy when we found a grower at the Farmer's Market that had some of the "New Orleans" stock. Now we can grow mirlitons again.


naturegirl7 profile image

naturegirl7 5 years ago from South Louisiana Author

davenmidtown, Thanks, in your climate, you should have no trouble growing them.


MLANDRY 2 years ago

How do I know a mirliton is ripe?


naturegirl7s profile image

naturegirl7s 2 years ago from Covington, LA

When mirlitons are mature they are large and full. They are in the squash family so they can be eaten at many stages. When they start to sprout from the "seed" inside mirlitons can still be eaten, but may not be as flavorful.


Wayne Deshotel 4 months ago

Dottie, how can I order or get some mirlitons to plant myself? I live in central Louisiana.


naturegirl7 profile image

naturegirl7 3 weeks ago from South Louisiana Author

In the fall of the year, in South Louisiana, you should be able to find plenty at farmers' markets and local fruit stands. The mirlitons in the big chain grocery stores usually come from S. America and don't grow well in our climate.

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