The choko debate

When I was a child every yard had a choko vine growing rampant somewhere..whether it was over the back fence, chook shed, garage or outdoor toilet, there was never a shortage of chokoes in your own, or neighbours, back yards. They were never a favourite vegetable no matter how inventive my mum was when cooking them! Probably boiled, then in a curried white sauce was one of the better ways.

Nowadays, for some reason that I fail to understand, they have become trendy and the price has increased accordingly. To me they are still only useful as a “filler” vegetable that you use when they are available in abundance from your own or a neighbours’ back yard, and other vegetables are expensive. So far I have never had to buy them when I’ve needed them and have never, in recent years, served them as a vegetable, although they were very useful recently, as an ingredient in the quantities of green tomato pickles I made. I have 4 that have long shoots ready to plant in the prepared garden bed, so I should have lots next year.

I remember being told that, during the depression days and war years, they were used as a substitute for apples and pears in tinned fruit as they take on other flavours very readily. There are a number of recipes in my old recipe books for choko pie as a substitute for apple pie.

They are native to Central America and were taken to Europe by the Spanish and from there to Asia and someone brought them to Australia in about the 1890s. They were readily adopted and although, technically a fruit, were used as a vegetable.

They are good for you as they are a good source of folate, magnesium and potassium and increase good cholesterol levels. They deserve a place as a “heart-healthy” ingredient in our diet.

They are known by many names in other places but I think most people would recognise choko as the name for the green or white, sort of pear-shaped, produce in Australia.

Another old-fashioned vegetable I was given by a friend recently was some Jerusalem Artichokes. They have nothing to do with Jerusalem or Artichokes but are in fact a relative of sunflowers. It is also known by a number of names such as sunroot, sunchoke, wild sunflower and earth apple to mention just a few. It is native to North America and was taken by the French to Europe where it has become a delicacy in French cuisine.

They grow from a lumpy tuber that resembles a ginger root and are very vigorous and will take over an area. They can grow very tall so don’t plant them where they will cause other plants that need sun. I think if I plant mine I will do as I would with mint and put a drum in the ground and plant them in that to confine them.

To use them as a vegetable just scrub, don’t peel, and use as you would potatoes..a great alternative.

With the passing years, they have been selectively bred and now come in a range of colours similar to sweet potatoes.

When I was newly married my husband used to go in and help an elderly lady clean her yard on a semi-regular basis. I remember the main thing that needed attention were the Jerusalem artichokes and that he really disliked having to deal with them!! He had been doing this for a number of years and somehow I was never given any tubers to cook. I remember that his mum had been and the family was not a fan of them!

The weather has not been kind to gardeners recently with heavy frosts and rain but better days are ahead! When you can, get out in your gardens and get them in shape for the spring Garden Competition to be judged in the first week of October.

After so many years of dry conditions and water restrictions, I am looking forward to seeing many beautiful gardens entered this year with the rain we’ve had now.

If you are needing inspiration, come to the Gardening Extravaganza in St Mary’s Hall in Wood street on the Wednesday and Thursday of Jumpers and Jazz in July.

There will be at least 17 stall holders to tempt you with all sorts of things to do with gardening plus wonderful food to enjoy when you need a break from browsing!

The venue will comply with current health requirements and stall holders are encouraged to have the necessary hand sanitiser etc., so you will be able to attend with confidence for an enjoyable time out.