A New Crop for North America
One of the things that we enjoy at Flanders Bay Farm is growing plants that aren't familiar to farmers here on the East End of Long Island or plants that are not usually grown here. It is important to keep your eyes open to the potential of a new crop. So, we do a fair amount of evaluation of material looking for that special unknown.
Anchocha, also known as Caygua (Cyclanther pedata) is a native of the Peru uplands. It is not frost hardy but is tolerant of cool fall weather when it produces the greatest quantities of edible fruit. The seeds can be started indoors like tomatoes or peppers to get a head start on the growing season. Even then, Anchocha takes a long time to produce; probably 120 days or so. Zone 7 might be the northern limit for this interesting vining member of the squash family. We have worked for the last two years with Anchocha and here in Flanders it will begin to bear fruit in late August and continue until the vines are cut down by frost. Each vine can bear dozens of fruit. Anchocha is a cucurbit. The vines have highly cut leaves and clusters of tiny flowers that don't look much like squash nor even cucumbers which the anchocha are sometimes compared to.
When the fruits are 2-3" they are tender and tasty and besides cucumbers, have been compared to green beans, green peppers and even artichokes. The vines use their tendrils to climb netting, fences, trees but seem to produce best where they ramble horizontally. The greatest obstacle to their acceptance is not knowing what to do with the bizarre green fruits with soft spines.
In extensive testing at FBF, the young fruits are fine raw chopped up into salads like green peppers or used with a dip as may raw veggies are. They are outstanding dipped in a tempura batter and deep fried. When the fruit grows large (4 - 7 inches) and chewy, remove the few black seeds (dry them for next seasons seed crop) and stuff the hollow fruit with ground meat and rice or with a cornmeal mesa, cheese and hot peppers; perhaps chunks of cooked chicken or pork and steam like tamales or simmer in a tomato sauce like stuffed peppers or even bake in a wood fired oven. Think of the Anchocha as an edible bowl that will become soft like a cooked pepper. You may want to use the vines to tie the fruit closed after stuffing it. My favorite preparation is to steam the large fruits after removing the seed and then dip it into egg and breadcrumbs to panfry the fruit like breaded eggplant. One can take this a step further and make a parmesian. They are probably most like artichoke in flavor prepared like this. Some people also enjoy the tender shoots lightly stemed as greens.
Anchoca has caused some interest in medical research for phytochemicals that are produced nowhere else. Investgations on it's healthful properties such as in lowering triglycerides are ongoing. The ancient Mocha culture of Peru held the anchocha in high regard. Pottery is often found decorated with large stylized ceramic anchocha fruit.