Apparently, Achocha was a food crop grown by the Incas in South America. It is a member of the Curcubit family of plants, which includes squash and cucumbers and requires similar conditions to grow. It is an extremely vigorous climber, 5 or 6 m with ease before it gets cut down with Autumn frosts in the UK.
The fruits are an odd shape rather like Turkish shoes or as are apparently described in Mexico, as “ladies slippers”. The taste is rather like a cucumber when eaten raw, while if stir fried, rather like a sweet green pepper.
In my view, Achocha is really only of marginal use as a food crop in the North of the UK, even though it proved quite easy to grow in Glasgow.
Medicinal benefits of Achocha. It is claimed that it is capable of lowering cholesterol levels when eaten.
The plants produce male and female flowers in July/August and from my observations, pollination is carried out by swarms of hover flies.
As hover fly larvae are voracious predators of greenfly, growing Achocha up a fence or hedge would be a good way of attracting the hover flies to your vegetable patch.
The large jagged seeds are best started in pots in heat in April, by lightly covering them in compost. Then transfer the seedlings to a cool greenhouse or frost free place to harden off. Only transplant them to their final location once all danger of frost is past, say June, and it would still be a good idea to provide cloche protection for several weeks in the North of the UK.
Allow the plants to clamber up a hedge or fence in a sunny position.
The Achocha fruits are best eaten while they are still under 2 cm long and are soft and tender. When they become full sized, about 5 cm long, the outer flesh is stringy and the large seeds would need to be removed. “Caigua” Achocha, the larger stuffing variety, should be allowed to grow to full size and the seeds removed before stuffing the fruits.
They can be eaten raw while still tender, or lightly stir fried or steamed.
Saving Achocha seeds is easy if you allow some fruits to mature. Scrape the dark jagged seeds from the fruit and dry on kitchen paper.
Suggested varieties of Achocha.
There are several species of Achocha available to grow from seed in the UK.
Fat Baby. (Cyclanthera brachystachya)
This is apparently the easiest one to grow outdoors in the UK. The fruits grow singly.
Ladies Slippers. (Cyclanthera pedata)
The fruits usually appear in two’s and is the one I grew successfully in Glasgow.
‘Caigua’ Achocha (Cyclanthera pedata)
This is a large fruited version 10 to 20 cm long and used for stuffing. This one is likely to be more productive when grown in a greenhouse or poly tunnel, rather than outside.
Exploding Cucumber. (Cyclanthera explodens)
This is another related species of Achocha which spreads the seeds around by bursting open and “exploding” to hurl the seeds some distance. The fruits are about half the size of Fat Baby. Care should be taken when collecting and preparing the fruits in case they explode in your face.