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My Father’s Mirlitons

During his retirement, my late father became an accomplished mirliton farmer. He grew them in his backyard where the vines climbed ambitiously over two trellises. Mirliton growing requires some skill; the right parts must intermingle to produce offspring. In season, the trellises would be loaded down with what seemed to be hundreds of the prickly pale-green vegetables.

Growing the mirlitons was just part of the skill; the other part was doing something with them. In my father’s case he made mirliton pickles, slicing and boiling them on a burner in the garage and then doing the hot work of preserving them in Mason jars. The pickles were excellent, providing a slightly sweet taste with a crispness different from a standard cucumber- based pickle.

“Guess what I bought at the store today,” my father once called to say. “Six mirlitons,” he continued. “What!” I replied, remembering the bounty in his backyard. He explained that when jarring his latest batch of pickled mirlitons he fell a half-dozen short of filling the last jar.

Rather than leaving a container partially empty he took the unprecedented step of adding imports into his crop.

This edition looks at classic New Orleans dishes assigned for each day of the week. Mirliton pickles would complement any dish suggested.

Stuffed peppers make the list, but stuffed mirliton has always been a savory alternative. In some places the vegetable is known as the chayote or christophine; tropical New Orleans has its own language. As much as anything else, mirlitons are a New Orleans specialty – one that I’m convinced needs rediscovery. Stuffed peppers are great, but their skin cannot compete with the fleshy bowl of the stuffed mirliton, revealing a sweet taste that intermingles with the juices of the stuffing to provide an amalgam of flavor.

Where my parents’ garage and backyard once were there’s now an empty lot leveled by the Road Home program. Grass is all that’s growing there now. Anyone wanting mirlitons will have to get them all at the store.

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