Two things I’d never encountered before moving to Louisiana were armadillos and mirlitons. Armadillos reminded me of a small dinosaur meandering along beside a country road. I really didn’t have anything else for comparison with mirlitons.
I discovered that mirlitons are a type of a squash that grows on a meandering vine. They ripen in the fall and can be found in farmers markets and grocery stores in Louisiana around Thanksgiving. Mirlitons are the shape of a pear with textured skin. They are very bland in flavor, with a crisp and pale pulp. Perhaps somewhat similar to summer squash, but not really. The skin is very thin but the pulp is much firmer than a summer squash.
Mirlitons go by several terms, including vegetable pears and chayote squash. Mirlitons are native to Mexico and Central American and were introduced into Louisiana in early colonial days. They grow sprawling across the ground and I have also seem them in country gardens growing up a trellis or along a fence with the fruit hanging down. I am not aware that there is much of a commercial outlet for mirlitons and I have never seen them outside of Louisiana.
MIrlitons are native to South American and Central America. Perhaps, there will be an increase in their popularity as the Hispanic population here increases.
Mirliton’s and Hurricane Katrina
When I was looking up information on mirliton’s, I came across an interesting WEB site about mirliton’s which discussed the effects of Katrina and Gustov on this vegetable. This document can be found at: http://www.crescentcityfarmersmarket.org/uploads/file/A_Guide_to_Growing_Mirlitons.pdf)
Hurricane Katrina flooded much of the city. In addition to people and homes, the hurricane devastated the plants and landscape. In fact it took several several years after the hurricane for the bushes, grass and vegetation to return. For someone from out of town like myself, driving through the most affected areas of town which were flooded really gave a barren and surreal appearance.
This WEB author talks about the effect of the hurricanes, Katrina and Gustov, on mirlitons growing in New Orleans. According to the author, Katrina wiped out much of the mirliton crop. The vegetable does not like to be root bound and did not do well after the storm. The author gives an interesting account of his efforts to get the vegetable re-established.
Cooking with Mirlitons
I found the mirlitons pictured here at a local grocery supermarket. They were individually wrapped and unblemished–much nicer than many I’ve seen at farmer’s markets. The cashier didn’t know how to ring them up, so I’m not sure whether or not I got a bargain.
During my catering years, I found a recipe for stuffed mirlitons. The vegetable was boiled for 45 minutes to an hour until tender. Then the pulp was mixed with vegetables, bread crumbs and sauteed shrimp and baked. Since they are so bland, the mirlitons can be spiced up with some Tabasco Sauce or Creole seasoning to make them as hot as you’d like. The dish was delicious.
The ingredients for this recipe are the same as those for stuffed eggplants. Just being adaptable. So if you don’t have mirlitons, look for some eggplants. Either way, this is a good way to prepare the vegetable, and always gets compliments when I serve it for guests. Look for an accompanying post.