9 Dec 2011

I've been eating Fat Babies

There's not many places you could put a statement like that out in the open and not get immediately arrested but, in this case, it's absolutely true. They've been plucked, washed, sliced, gutted and fried in butter. And then eaten.
Achocha spiny fruit

Fat Babies, or Achocha as they're also known, are my star experimental plant in the veg patch and balcony this year. Admittedly, I muddled my seed order and thought I was buying ExplOding Fat Babies so I was quite bemused to find that my babies were quite docile, if alarmingly vigorous in their growth.

I met gardener and author Alex Mitchell earlier this year and, over a mug of coffee in my sitting room, she spied the spiky Achocha fruits poking out of the vine growing across my balcony. Having just written an inspirational book about Edible Balconies, she was intrigued by this plant as I'd created a sort of mini Forest Garden on my tiny balcony. (It towered over herbs, tomatoes, chilli peppers, spinach, radishes, orache, beans, nasturtiums and violets.) But more of my balcony food growing later ...

Small fruit forming

The seeds came from the Real Seed Company who describe the young fruits as tasting of sweet green peppers; personally, I find cooking them in butter reminds me of the taste of asparagus. (For me, this is good.) Other people have likened the taste to grass (less appealing), having taken to heart the advice that they can be chopped and eaten raw in salads. From my viewpoint, I'm just really pleased to be able to pick 'peppers' in December from the veg patch. Given the vagaries of the weather this autumn, I'm uncertain if this late harvest is usual but the plants grown on the balcony have just about finished while the plants in the veg garden are still fruiting - I counted nearly 20 fruits ready to be picked.  I'm guessing that this is because the balcony plants had only a small window box to grow in and only saw the sun in the afternoon whereas the veg patch achocha had lots more sun and open space. Nevertheless, the vines grew up and across the pigeon netting, easily reaching 10 feet long from one spindly, seemingly dead stem.They put out long tendrils, rather like peas, that reach out for anything to grab and wrap around.

Achocha tendrils

And, having found an anchor, form very strong spiral springs to keep their grip! An awesome protection system which has seen my Fat Babies sail through stormy weather this year.

Clinging on

I had two of these plants growing on the balcony and the vines filtered the sun beautifully all summer. Down in the veg patch, one solitary plant clambered around a 9 foot high cane wigwam and then got all tangled up as the vines had nowhere else to go. The vines can reach over 16 feet long! Real Seeds recommend that these should not be grown in a polytunnel as they can apparently completely take over, which I can easily believe. I think the plants would look lovely growing over a big wooden arch, like a grapevine, but they're an annual so die back in winter.

Achocha hails from South America, its Latin name is Cyclanthera brachystacha and, although it likes a nice sunny spot to grow in, it will happily thrive in the UK as long as the soil is free draining  and kept moist. There are a few variants but Fat Baby have bright green flesh with soft spines and, if allowed to mature, large black jagged edged seeds which look like small beetles.

Seeds revealed

The fruits can be eaten at any size, small (about an inch) or large (up to 3 inches). The larger ones have to be split open and the seeds removed before being cooked. If the spines have started to go brown, I just rub them off. They tend to fall off anyway when the fruit is being sliced. I've added them to vegetable chillies and eaten them fried with mushrooms but they can be sliced into a salad or onto a pizza, particularly when small. I think they would also be very nice in a stir fry with noodles. In any recipe that calls for a green pepper, you can reach for several of these instead. The flesh is thinner than a supermarket green pepper (so less watery), the taste greener and less sweet. Because they're very small, you need quite a lot to cook with, probably at least 10 for one green bell pepper. But these are much more fun to look at. The original seeds supplied are non-hybrid and the company encourages future seed saving of all their seeds. Achocha seeds are very easy to collect because of their size so, come next April when we're all starting over, if anyone would like to try Achocha, I think I might just have a few spare.

Achocha fruits

29 comments:

  1. I really interesting post. I've never come across these before. My list of plants to try next year is growing at an alarming rate. I think there will be some difficult choices to make come my January seed order!! So do you just pick off those spiny bits?

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  2. @wellywoman
    No, amazingly the spines are really soft so you just eat the lot. I used to see rubber-spined rucksacks in Camden Market a few years ago; they looked really vicious but were very squidgy close up - these plants remind me of those!

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  3. Another plant I have never heard of - you are getting very experimental in your old age - I'm not sure whether I would have enough room to accomodate them though.

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  4. As Welly says what an interesting post! I've never come across them either but they sound and look like a fascinating plant to grow and eat. Flighty xx

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  5. I've never seen these before. They're very interesting looking.

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  6. There's an award for you on my blog. You're under no obligation to accept it, I know how time consuming these kind of posts are, I just wanted to let you know that I enjoy reading your blog.

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  7. I'd love some seeds...let me know if there's anything you're looking for and maybe we can sort out a trade? :)

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  8. @elaine
    They don't take up very much space, Elaine - you could even grow them along your fence. The main stem puts out lots of fruiting side shoots which can be tied into any vertical surface (wigwam, trellis). Let me know if you want to give it a go ... Caro x

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  9. @flightplot
    They'd certainly get your plot neighbours attention! I'm happy to send seeds if you want to give them a go. Caro x

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  10. @Jo
    I'm not sure how I found these either, Jo! Probably a random remark on a blog somewhere led to a google search. I thought they looked such fun.

    Thank you for the blog award; your gesture is very much appreciated - we've been following each others blogs for a while and I always look forward to reading your posts too! I'll try and think of a few newish blogs that I enjoy and can pass the award to. Caro xx

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  11. @Tanya @ Lovely Greens
    I'm very happy to pass on seeds Tanya - you would certainly be most welcome to some! Will email you about this. Caro x

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  12. You've won my giveaway. Can you please let me have your address so that I can get the goodies out to you.

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  13. Hoe interesting! I thought I knew a lot about veg but I've never heard of these.

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  14. @Jo
    How exciting! Thanks Jo, I'll email my address to you asap. Caro x

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  15. @Bridget
    Bridget, I hope I've introduced you to a vegetable that you'll find useful. I like to try growing a few veg that are impossible to find in the markets so these definitely fit that bill!

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  16. They're lovely plants, aren't they? Well done with yours, apparently it was quite a tricky year for achocha in the UK.

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  17. @Emma
    Really? Beginners luck, I expect, Emma - either that or it's the hot air as I talk to my plants every time I see them! Seriously though, I was a bit late in starting them off so they had nice mid-year temperatures - and, of course, that lovely prolonged warm autumn weather. Hopefully it will all go okay next year ... !

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  18. I've never even heard of these! So interesting!

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  19. @Rachel
    They would have been perfect for your balcony growing project Rachel. I really hope that you'll be able to grow and blog again next year. Caro x

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  20. Hi Caro,

    How are the Achocha growing this year? I'd be really interested in some seeds if you still have any to give away, would love to add it to my plot next year along with the Tromba D'Albega squash I'm going to give a go.

    James

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    Replies
    1. Hello James, I've tried to link through to an email address for you but can't seem to find one so I hope this reply finds you. I'm growing Achocha again this year, so far only on my balcony and it looks really healthy and l-o-n-g! I'm struggling to find space for everything this year, plus the weather has been so awful but I'm going to start off a few plants in the veg garden this week and just see what happens, I have lots of seeds left over from last year (this is what I'm growing this year's crop from) and you'd be very welcome to some if you want to email me your address. I'm all for promoting new veg to enthusiastic gardeners!
      P.S. Would love to know how you found my blog?

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  21. Hi. You have exactly the same variety of achocha as I have grown this year. I am picking them at 1 - 2 inches long and eating them raw in salad or fried, or added to vegetable curries/stir-fries, fritatta etc. They have just about taken over my small greenhouse. The poor old tomatoes are getting completely overrun by them! (I am in Scotland, by the way).

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    1. Hello Firehorse3, thanks for commenting and welcome! Amazing that you've been able to grow achocha in Scotland as they're naturally from South America! I didn't grown any this year (2013) as last year was such a wash out - now I wish I had done! They're an amazing vegetable - you get such a lot from one little seed - and, of course, will do well with greenhouse protection. Have you tried achocha and tomatoes? I think it would be rather good!

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  22. Just made an achocha curry. It was good. Didn't like the taste raw much

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    1. I preferred the taste after they'd been cooked. Interesting to make a curry from them, tasty! Thanks for the idea!

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  23. I would love to try growing this variety (with cucumber like leaves, not lobed leaves.) Real seeds do not ship to US though. I was wondering, if anyone wants to trade with me, who has the seeds ( I have moringa, red veined sorrel, Mexican sour gherkins and west India gherkins, and other fun seeds to try.)

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  24. Not seen the spined variety before, only the smooth skinned (whose leaves resemble those of cannabis!). Love the "fat babies" name. Just transplanted mine here in Aldershot, where they are grown by a lot of the local Nepalese community

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  25. Thank you for this article. It’s really interesting. I grew them a year or so ago and wasn’t very impressed but a plant ‘volunteered’ itself up from the compost this year so I left it in place. I’ve got lots of fruit but was definitely one of the ‘tastes like grass’ group so I’ll try cooking with them this time. Thanks for the tip. I might try them in a pot next year as they take up too much space in the veg garden.

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    1. If you grow them in a pot, make sure that there's plenty of nutrition in the soil and water very regularly as they like moist (not wet) soil. The main thing is to give the very long stems something to cling to as they grow - if they're tied in to a frame, they won't look so untidy or take over the garden!

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Comments on my posts are much appreciated and help to build an online community of blog friends. Everyone is welcome! I love to discover new blogs so please leave a comment to introduce yourself.
Caro x

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