Caigua or Achocha – Cyclanthera pedata var. edulis
This Andes curcubit has many names and makes most sense to me when called stuffing cucumber. My Caigua is originally from Bolivia and is of a variety that tends to be nice and smooth and crunchy. There are other cultivars apparently that can get spiny and some even hairy.
It is a spreading fairly tough but thin stemmed vine that grows to about 3m x 3m.
I find it grows best planted in a nice big pile of manure and grown along a trellis or fence. This is a good companion to plants like pumpkins as the vine will twine between the large stems and fill gaps.
It needs average water supply but not too dry or wet. And it seems to like a burst of rain or watering as the tiny white flowers come out to help with the fruits forming. This tends to happen for me at the end of summer and on through autumn right up to mid winter if it’s not too cold.
This not a cold climate plant. It will grow in the cold but stay very small without full sun and lots of soil warmth.
It will grow in a pot and i generally start them that way and then transplant the whole pot contents into the ground.
The best seeds are quite large, very dark and hard – but they all seems to germinate fairly easily. They can be started in very early spring as long as they get a bit of heat and lots of sun.
It tastes like cucumber and is fresh and crunchy or when larger and older and cooked more like artichoke. It can also be cooked in soups or stews as a gourd like feature item. It is also ideal for filling with other foods. and baking etc. or just eating fresh as a container.
Many people that I have given it to taste say it is very like a green crunchy bean taste.
I would recommend eating it finely sliced in a salad with fine strips of carrot and nuts etc. and also it is really excellent sliced or diced and mixed into yoghurt with a little spearmint.
The inside soft white membrane is very easy to push aside, pull away or remove and the seeds are usually hard and easily just drop out. The outside skin is a nice cucumber crunchy texture but with some structure so it wont easily fall apart. You sometimes get a few small pointy bumps like spines on the outside but generally it is a smooth nice feel.
You can just harvest when you feel the need to eat them 🙂 They will likely keep for a while I would guess but that nice fresh crunch is too hard to resist.
Supposedly it has a lot of interesting useful medicinal properties too.
It is mentioned in that great classic andes Research book ‘The lost crops of the Incas‘ in the chapter ‘Squashes and their relatives‘ – and that is where i first read about it and then spent ages tracking it down. (This book is really worth a perusal.)