16 Nov 2015
The Downfall of Achocha
It's been a bit blustery of late but I certainly wasn't expecting this last weekend.
I hadn't posted a garden update for a while and my sleep patterns hadn't yet shifted from British Summer Time so, having dusted off my breakfast and a huge pile of washing, I was in the garden by 7.30 a.m. last Sunday (Yes, Sunday. Lie ins are so last decade, at least in my case.)
The plan was this: take a few photos, see what needs doing, pop a few spring bulbs into the rain softened soil. But you know what they say about best laid plans.
The first thing I saw when I got to the garden was that Saturday's strong winds had brought down the (admittedly very cheap) arches that I used as support for my climbing beans and achocha this year. They looked so lovely during the summer, a leafy arch to walk under, weighted with produce. And that was the problem. The achocha vines were still chugging out an abundance of fruit while the beans were slowly fading so it all got a bit lopsided. Lots of rain had softened the soil that the arches were bedded into and after a prolonged blast of wind, down they came, twisting and buckling as one part of the base remained firm while the top pulled away and down. It was a devastating sight.
There was no point in bemoaning the loss of the arches; instead, it was the sight of all those lovely peppers and beans sprawled across my broccoli plants that caused despair. Weather can be such a two-edged sword. With all the rain we've had this year, the little spiny hedgehog fruits had soaked up all that water making them crunchy, sweet and juicy - ironically, a perfect harvest but one that I would have preferred not to have all at once.
Achocha can be a prolific vine at the best of times and will (accidents apart) keep going from late July until the first frosts. One plant can grow up to 20 feet in length with many fruit bearing side shoots and long sensitive tendrils curling like springs around anything they come into contact with. The plant had woven itself into a tangled spaghetti and it took me two hours to cut the vines off the arches, removing the fruit as I went. Two overloaded colanders got brought back indoors but quite a few pods will just be used for seed. So that's that for this year. The achocha is finished.
The large black seeds can be easily saved straight from the pods in the kitchen - just slice off the stalk end and open up the pod. The seeds are held around a central stigma so can be pulled off in one movement. It's quite addictive - I now have a large bowl of fresh achocha seeds. If anyone's interested in growing them next year, give me a shout and I'll happily post some.
Here's my thoughts on why you should grow them:
If you like really green tasting veg (cucumbers, courgettes, peppers, beans) you should try achocha at least once. They're delicious eaten whole when small (a bit like cucumber, which they're related to). Older pods need to be cooked with the seeds removed; slice and stir fry or use as a substitute for peppers in casseroles. Fried in butter, they taste (to me) like asparagus. Yum. The pods will grow to about 2 inches long and are hollow when mature; stuffing them is how they were eaten by the Incas.
Achocha are reputed to be capable of lowering cholesterol (or so I've read). Most importantly, in my opinion, achocha flowers are pollinated by hoverflies who also love to eat greenfly - this I know to be true - and who wouldn't want lots of hoverflies in their garden? They're also a great novelty veg for children interested in, or new to, gardening - don't be put off by the spines, they're very soft.
I've spent a good deal of time figuring out the best way to preserve my unexpected bounty. More in my next post but let me just say it might involve jam. ;o)