Chokos are an old-time Aussie favourite, native to South America where it is known as chayote. The choko vine remains a feature of many backyards, growing over the chook pen or along a fence; bearing green, slightly spiky fruit with mild, white flesh. In Australia it was used as a pie or jam filler during the Depression years. Often in those days the vine adorned its contempory, the backyard dunny. Choko still graces modern dinner tables of its fans, in vegetable form -barbequed, fried or baked with white or cheese sauce.
In this household I’m the single fan of choko as a vegetable. The G.O. however, has a fondness for choko pickles: the speciality of many a nanna, mum, aunt or generous neighbour; omnipresent as a condiment; ubiquitous at fetes & market stalls; and useful as a bartering commodity.
Use a long pole with a bent nail in the end to reach a baker’s dozen of the highest & biggest chokos on your neighbour’s vine because everyone else got there before you.
Peel, deseed & neatly dice chokos.
Wash your hands half a dozen times to get the choko sap off them… unsuccessfully.
Peel and neatly dice 16 medium brown onions.
Soak choko & onions in salted water overnight.
Hunt out jars from where they’ve been stashed in the shed.
Prepare jars by boiling for 30 minutes to sterilise.
Open all the kitchen windows. Turn on ceiling fan.
Heft tub of soaking chokos & onion onto the sink, drain & rinse.
Transfer chokos & onion to large stockpot.
Add equal quantities white sugar & white vinegar, i.e. 12 cups each.
Update shopping list to replenish white sugar & vinegar.
Add 6 teaspoons each of tumeric, ginger powder, white pepper, mustard powder & curry powder.
Stir to combine then bring to boil.
Reduce heat and simmer with lid on for approximately 1 hour.
Panic that you haven’t sterilised enough jars.
Scour cupboards for more, wash, then microwave extra jars for 2 minutes.
Put all jar lids in saucepan to sterilise… again, and boil for 10 minutes.
Put all jars on trays in oven on 120 Celsius for at least 30 minutes to sterilise… again.
Remove lid from stockpot, remembering not to stick face into spicy vinegar fumes.
Reserve half cup of liquid in small bowl.
Firmly break up softened chokos & onions using potato masher.
Turn up heat, bring back to boil & reduce by half.
Mix 2 tablespoons of cornflour into cooled reserved liquid.
When contents of stockpot have reduced by half, lower heat & blend in cornflour mixture until contents thicken slightly.
If, like me, you prefer thick, caramelised pickles rather than liquidy-floury, use as little flour as possible, make smaller batches… and share judiciously.
Spoon mixture into hot jars leaving headspace at top.
Sort through lids trying to figure out which belongs to what.
Screw lids on tight.
Wipe spillage off jars with damp cloth.
Lick sticky residue off fingers… mmm… spicy… sweet.
Place jars on heat-proof surface to cool.
Label jars with contents & date unless you plan, later, to play guess the mystery contents.
Add to the label, in the spirit of optimism, a note asking for jar to be returned.
Listen for popping noises that indicate jars have achieved airtight seals.
Happy dance each time you hear a pop.
Pickles are best left to mature for at least a week, better a month.
Store jars in cool cupboard. Refrigerate once opened.
If a not quite full jar remains, store in fridge and enjoy immediately.
Eat choko pickles with cheese & bread, as a side to eggs & meat dishes, as a condiment to curries and casseroles, add to rissole/meatball mix…
Many variations of choko pickle recipes can be found in old cookbooks and via Google.
A basic, classic recipe is http://www.foodtolove.com.au/recipes/choko-pickle-306
If you want to learn more about chokos including how to grow your own, Jackie French: A Choko Needs to know its Place is a good start.
“Alexandra often said that if her mother were cast upon a desert island, she would thank God for her deliverance, make a garden, and find something to preserve. Preserving was almost a mania with Mrs. Bergson. Stout as she was, she roamed the scrubby banks of Norway Creek looking for fox grapes and goose plums, like a wild creature in search of prey. She made a yellow jam of the insipid ground cherries that grew on the prairie, flavoring it with lemon peel; and she made a sticky dark conserve of garden tomatoes. She had experimented even with the rank buffalo-pea, and she could not see a fine bronze cluster of them without shaking her head and murmuring, ‘What a pity!’ When there was nothing to preserve, she began to pickle.” Willa Cather, ‘O Pioneers