Its spring time in Australia, and our area in Far North Queensland has gratefully received a decent fall of rain. I’m gleefully anticipating the springing to life of our un-irrigated areas that had gone dull and dormant during the dry weather. Among other things, I’m looking forward again to abundant chokos.
I used to think of choko as a bland, boring vegetable. I didn’t like skinning it, and I didn’t like eating it with the skin on. Undercooked, it’s too tough; overcooked it’s a watery, unappetizing mush.
Add to that the baskets of cheap chokos on offer at roadside stalls, farmer markets, and LETS[i] drop off points throughout the summer, and choko is just… blah.
Or so I thought.
Then I read an article suggesting that we just don’t know how to make effective use of this generous, abundant, easy to grow plant – and I started paying more attention.
Here are 7 ways I make use of choko vines and fruits now that I have more appreciation for them.
- We put all the tiny tender little bits into salads. The smallest little nut sized chokos are great in salads, along with the tender tips of the vines, the tiny, shiny, newest leaves, and the curling tendrils. My 6-year-old son doesn’t bother putting any of these in a salad – he just plucks them down and munches on them as he goes about his day.
- We cook the small to medium sized chokos. If you pick them before they are tough and big, there is no need to peel or to remove the seed. This was a revelation for me – so much faster to prepare! The seed of these smaller chokos tastes pleasant and probably adds some nutrition, and the skin is not at all tough. Steamed small to medium choko is my daughter’s favorite vegetable. (You have to start somewhere, I suppose. Maybe she’ll end up being a lover of super-nutritious kale and sauerkraut…)
- We feed the vines to our guinea pigs, who convert it into fruit tree food. Our guinea pigs love the leaves and vines, young or old. They probably would eat the chokos, too, but there are too many other takers for them. A small group of guinea pigs can eat an amazing amount of choko vine, very quickly. It comes out the back end as manure, which is a much more nutrient dense product for the soil around our young mulberry trees where the guinea pigs live, than what went into the front end.
- We feed the large, tough fruit and the excess vines to our pigs. Pigs will eat all parts of the choko plant, at any stage. It’s not their favorite food—they prefer sweet potatoes or pumpkins—but they will happily munch on choko fruits and vines if there is nothing else on offer, and it makes a great addition to their diet for the days when I can’t find much other plant food for them. (Little piglets need the large, tough chokos cut into small chunks.)
- Goats and cattle will eat the large, old chokos, roughly chopped. They’d eat the young tender ones, and probably the vines too, if they were invited.
- Excess vines, and spent vines at the end of winter, make great mulch and are easy to pull down from where-ever they’ve climbed to. In the growing season, in the absence of something to climb up, choko vines will ramble across the ground, forming a living mulch that’s easy to pull away when you no longer want it there. Volumes of easily produced plant material that can be used for mulch or in compost is something I place a high value on. Plants that will do this with no effort on my part are welcome helpers in the garden.
- I’m trialing growing chokos on fences where I have weeds and grasses growing up through the fence that are difficult to clear out. I’m hoping that when the vines get thick enough, they might shade out the weeds. The jury is still out on this one.
- Bonus extra: I’ve read that choko plants form a storage tuber underground that you can eat– I haven’t tried searching for this as I’m not sure if it’s a case of digging up the whole plant, and I don’t want to kill my vines.
Now I look differently upon those baskets of cheap chokos. I almost always gratefully snap some up, because we rarely have enough of them growing at our place.
The humble choko has become another valued helper in our efforts to develop our gardens and reduce our dependence on supermarkets and feed stores.
[i]LETS: Local Exchange Trade System. LETS is a community-based exchange system that allows its users to exchange goods and services using a locally created currency, to build community and keep wealth where it is created.
Kate writes about thinking differently and living a more natural and sustainable life, at ARealGreenLife.com.
Download a free copy of her eGuide, Ditching the Supermarket.