Originally from northern Louisiana, I now live in the southern part. I have many great country, Cajun, and New Orleans recipes to share.
What Is a Mirliton?
Is a mirliton a musical instrument, a dance movement, or a vegetable?
Actually, the correct answer is all three—but this page is about the vegetable.
Mirlitons are a fleshy, mild-tasting, tropical squash-like fruit that is a member of the cucumber family. The fruit has a flavor similar to squash and is used much like squash in recipes. Cultivated throughout the southern United States, mirlitons are an integral part of old New Orleans cooking.
In New Orleans, you can't have Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner without at least one dish containing mirlitons. (I should take this opportunity to tell you how we pronounce the name of this vegetable in N'Awlinese: it's MEL-a-tahn.)
In this article we'll discuss how to grow and cook mirliton—and we'll even talk about a festival that honors it. If you have a bumper crop of mirlitons this year, then this article should keep you stocked with a variety of ways to use them.
Other Names for Mirliton
Other names for this unique vegetable include: chayote, mango squash, pear squash, chuchu, sayote, tayota, choko, chocho, and chow-chow.
Fall Vegetable in New Orleans
Mirliton vines crawl all over backyards in New Orleans and other parts of southern Louisiana and are relatively easy to grow if you have the right growing conditions. You need a good amount of rain and a summer that is not too hot. If the weather cooperates and cools off early enough in the fall, the vines will set flowers in September and begin bearing fruit in October,
Around New Orleans, we pronounce it MEL-a-tahn.
Recipe 1: Dottie's Stuffed Mirlitons
Besides being a truly beautiful person with a kind and loving heart, my lovely mother-in-law was the queen of the mirliton chefs. Her stuffed mirliton casserole was the best, even by New Orleans' high standards. She finally showed me how to prepare this delicious dish after I had been married to her son for a few years.
I'm going to share Dottie's secret recipe and many others with you—and you don't even have to marry her son!
- 4 mirlitons
- 1 to 1 1/4 cup soft Italian breadcrumbs
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 pound shrimp (or ham or ground meat), coarsely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Dash of black pepper
- 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1/8 cup buttered bread crumbs
- Simmer mirlitons in salted water until tender, about 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Remove, drain, and reserve about 1 cup of the water.
- Cut the mirlitons in half. Remove the seeds and carefully spoon out the pulp. (Dottie just put her stuffing into a casserole dish, but many people stuff the mirliton shells.) Set the shells aside if you want to stuff them.
- Chop the pulp and add bread crumbs. Sauté onions, garlic, and shrimp or meat of your choice in butter over medium heat until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Add salt and pepper. Continue cooking for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. (If it is too dry, add a little of the reserved mirliton boiling water.) Cool a little and add parsley and thyme and mix thoroughly.
- Fill vegetable shells or shallow casserole dish with pulp mixture and sprinkle the top with buttered crumbs. Bake at 375°F for 25 minutes.
Yield: 8 servings
Read More From Delishably
Variation: Add 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese with the parsley and thyme mixture and sprinkle a little Parmesan on top with the buttered breadcrumbs.
Several Types of Mirlitons
Mirlitons come in several varieties ranging from smooth to deeply wrinkled, from non-prickly skin to prickly skin, and from round to a flattened pear shape.
Recipe 2: Mirliton Pudding
Yield: 6 servings
- 1 1/2 cups cooked, mashed, and drained mirliton
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 cup evaporated milk
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 1/4 cup chopped pecans
- In a mixing bowl, combine the cooked mirliton, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, and spices.
- Stir in milk, sugar, flour, and butter. Add raisins and pecans.
- Pour the mixture into a buttered 1 1/2 quart casserole. Bake at 350°F for 1 hour or until the mixture is set.
Recipe 3: Pan-Fried Mirlitons
Yield: 4 servings
- 2 pounds mirliton
- 1 small onion, minced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Peel and cube the mirliton.
- Sauté with onion in sizzling butter over low heat until tender, about 20 minutes. Do not add water.
- Season with salt and pepper.
Recipe 4: Scalloped Mirlitons
Yield: 4 servings
- 4 tablespoons butter, divided
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- 2 cups thinly sliced mirlitons
- 1 cup chopped onions or 12 tiny onions
- 3 minced green peppers
- 1 1/2 cups white sauce
- 1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
- Make the white sauce: Melt 3 tablespoons butter over low heat. Blend in 3 tablespoons flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Gradually add 1 1/4 cups milk, stirring constantly. Cook until thick and smooth. Makes 1 1/2 cups.
- In a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish, layer the mirlitons, onion, green peppers, and white sauce. Cover with crumbs and then dot with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter.
- Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes.
How Big Are Mirlitons?
The fruit can range anywhere from a few ounces to more than two pounds.
How to Grow Mirlitons
For the gardeners among you who'd like to try your hand at growing this long-season plant, I'll give you some basic information and a couple of links to get you started. When fall comes around, you'll have hundreds of fruits to enjoy and to give away to friends and family.
Mirlitons are easy to plant. All you have to do is lay one of the fruits down on its side and cover it with dirt. The plant comes out of the fat end from a single "seed" that is inside. We start ours in the greenhouse during winter and then plant them out when all danger of frost has passed. They will even start sprouting vines while they are inside the house, sitting on the counter.
- Where to cultivate: Mirlitons grow well throughout Louisiana as well as neighboring states.
- Perennial: It is a perennial and will renew its growth from the roots each year if protected from freezing.
- Soil requirements: It requires a well-drained, highly fertile soil with lots of organic matter.
- Sunlight requirements: The plants require days in which the number of hours of daylight is 12 or more to begin blooming and setting fruit.
- Vining plant: The mirliton is a vining plant that resembles the cucumber plant, but it is much more vigorous in growth and more prolific in fruit production.
- Harvest: Normally, fruiting begins in September and continues until frost. Occasionally, a few fruits will grow in late spring if the plant has made enough vegetative growth by May. However, the main crop is produced in the fall.
- Production: In ideal growing conditions, a single vine in the yard or garden will produce more than enough fruit for the average family.
Recently I learned something new about growing mirlitons. It seems that to grow them successfully, you must start with fruits that were grown in south Louisiana, not the ones that you might find at the grocery that come from South America or other countries. After Hurricane Katrina, it was very hard to find locally grown mirlitons to get a start, but now they are making a comeback and they are easier to find.
Learn more about how to grow mirlitons from the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center (note that they use one of the fruit's alternate names, the vegetable pear).
How Much Fruit?
A single vine may produce as many as 100 one-pound mirlitons!
My Experience Growing Mirlitons
We found a grower at the local farmer's market who grew mirlitons from stock that originated in New Orleans. We purchased four fruits and eventually planted them in large pots, which we kept in the greenhouse until spring.
We thought that we had waited too long to plant them because while they were inside they began to sprout—and Dax, our 18-pound orange cat, thought that the sprouts were a very tasty treat. He kept "pruning" them back for us. To our surprise, this actually helped the plants to form bushy vines with many branches!
In May, we planted them out in the garden in soil enriched with chicken manure and compost. We are watering them well during dry periods and our hopes are high. In July, I thought I saw what looked like the beginning of a flower bud on a couple of them.
For more information about growing and cooking mirlitons, please visit my article called Growing Mirlitons: From Garden to Table.
New Orleans is so crazy about mirlitons that there is a festival each year sponsored by the Bywater Neighborhood Association in association with the Bywater Art Market. Food, fun, music, and art—what a great combination!
© 2008 Yvonne L B