Mirliton is a fruit in the gourd family, which includes foods like cucumbers and squashes. Known formally as Sechium edule, mirliton has a number of alternate names including christophene, tayota, sayote, pear squash, and chayote. The common name “mirliton” is most commonly seen in Louisiana, where this fruit is a popular element of Cajun and Creole cooking. Many grocery stores stock this fruit because it grows readily and transports well and it is also possible to grow it in home gardens.
The fruit is roughly pear sized and shaped, with a green, wrinkly rind. When cut open, mirliton reveals a flattened central pit. People can eat the fruit raw and there is no need to remove the skin, although it is advisable to wash it to remove any contaminants that may have settled on the outside of the fruit. When eaten raw, the fruit has a crispy, crunchy texture. Cooked mirliton can be prepared in a number of ways including grilling, baking, and boiling. It can be mashed, used in stir fries, added to salads, and used in a variety of other ways.
In Louisiana, one popular way to prepare mirliton is stuffed, classically with shrimp or other seafood although ingredients like sausage can be used, as well as vegetarian options. Stuffed foods are very popular in this region of the world and can be served with sides like vegetables and rice. The fruit can also be seen in salads and added to other dishes.
This Central American native prefers subtropical environments. It is highly susceptible to rot and it is important to avoid allowing the roots to get soggy, especially when the plants are young. Some gardeners have success with sprouting mirliton in paper bags, allowing the vine to start developing before planting it in the garden. Loose, well drained soil is recommended for growing the plant and people should avoid overwatering.
The fruit is not the only edible part of the plant. Shoots and leaves can be eaten as well and are popular in stir fries. The roots also produce tubers for storage of nutrients and the tubers are fully edible as well. Preventing rot will keep the tubers edible. Grocery stores are less likely to carry the roots, shoots, and leaves because there is less demand for them. People interested in these parts of the plant may need to grow their own or ask at a farmers' market. Many vendors are happy to bring things like shoots and leaves if they know customers are interested in them.