May I introduce Chilacayote?! cheel-a-ka-YO-teh At Santa Barbara’s Rancheria Community Garden an extensive vine runs along a fence, up and over an almost 10′ tall Bougainvillea! It prefers climbing! Our Chilacayote is prolific with huge squash 10 to 15 lbs hanging from it; amazing what weight that vine can hold without breaking!
Though it has various names, it is called Chilacayote in Mexico. Though it is called Malabar Gourd, Fig gourd – fig shaped leaves, it is actually a hard edible-skinned summer squash. You can eat the fruit small, around 4 inches in diameter, like a summer squash. Latina gardener Vickie says she cuts bigger fruit into strips, simmers them with cinnamon stick and a syrup of piloncillo, aka panela, and spices like canela, anise and cloves. Or make it into a sweet beverage! Cutting a mature squash offers a challenge just like hard winter squash. More better to harvest the younger ones! The flowers, prolific and fast growing leaves and tender shoots are used in Mexico and other countries as greens.
Or, because the squash is still fresh and delicious when there are few other fruits in the garden, it makes a wonderful base for a winter or early spring smoothie. The flesh is like a firm melon. Scoop out of the rind and remove the seeds. Mix the Chilacayote flesh with ice, sugar to taste and the juice of whatever citrus may be growing in the garden or available, such as lemons or grapefruit. Pineapple is also delicious. Put the raw ingredients in a blender and enjoy! Recipe by Anastasia Sinclair, Waldorf School
The many dark flat seeds, similar to, but larger than that of a watermelon, are rich in healthy oils, the most nutritious part of the plant. They can be dry roasted and eaten plain. Toss the seeds in some olive oil and salt and roast them in the oven at 300F. No need to wash them after taking them out of the melon. Enhances the flavor even more. Or make into palanquetas: just pour caramelized sugar over the seeds and let cool into a brittle candy!
YOU NEED PLENTY OF ROOM! 18′ to 50′ vines, even up into neighboring trees, are to be expected! They’re very easy to grow. Direct sow in the ground after the last frost, April/May or per your climate, best when soil temps are 60+. They love lots of water, which is more easily retained if they’re heavily mulched with organic matter, and a thick material like cardboard or old carpet on top of that keeps the weeds down through the whole season. Frost will not harm the fruits. Their skin is especially hard, and it may be necessary to tackle them with a hacksaw, or break them open with an axe! The squash for eating store very well for more than a year without loss in quality. Fruits kept several years dessicate and the seeds rattle around inside – hence the name gourd!
Not to worry if you don’t get fruit right away, they are late producers! The vine grows fast and is said to be a good rootstock for other cucurbits (graft and make a giant pumpkin???). A gardener in N. California says his vine ran rampant all year and flowered frequently but didn’t set more than 2-3 fruit all year until September. Then there were at least a dozen growing quickly! In warmer climes one plant can produce over 50 fruit!
The most north a gardener reported growing it successfully was in Scotland! In SoCal it can be grown like a perennial! The seeds are pricey, but you will only need to buy them once! After that you can save your own to plant again! You won’t need many, so plan to eat the rest!
The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for our SoCal Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!