We’re growing pipinola on our farm. Truth be told, I wasn’t a huge fan, but my husband always liked it a lot. It reminds me a lot of rutabaga, not because of the taste, but rather because of its reputation. I’ve always loved rutabaga, and it’s a traditional food I serve at Thanksgiving in our family. In World War I, rutabaga became known as famine food, it was a dish of last resort. It was, however, readily available, and when you have nothing to eat, you will eat it. Pipinola shares that same reputation, it’s sometimes referred to as “poor people’s food” or “pig’s food”. Not a very nice thing to say, but google it, that’s what some call it. It grows wild in Hawaii, and is relatively cheap at local markets.
Pipinola as it commonly referred to in Hawaii is also known as chayote. It is a member of the gourd family, similar to cucumbers and melons. I’ve come to appreciate this versatile little plant. You can eat everything on it, the leaves, stems, the fruit itself, and the root or tuber. I’ve never eaten the root myself, but I’ve heard it is similar in taste to a potato or yam (which don’t taste alike at all).
Pipinola is super easy to grow. If you let one sit long enough on your kitchen counter, it will start to sprout (like the picture above!). You plant the whole fruit in the ground with the sprout sticking out, and in no time you’ll have vines growing all over the place. It’s a good idea to plant this next to a fence or set up a trellis nearby to help support the vine. Although I’ve heard it can be sensitive to too much rain or draught, we’ve found it to be a hardy little plant.
The fruit itself is about the size of a large potato. It has a one large seed in it. It doesn’t have much flavor on its own, but when you cut it in cubes and stir fry it, it absorbs the flavors of the sauces and spices you’re cooking it in. It’s also good in soups. You do not need to peel the skin when cooking it, although I like it better that way; the skin gets a little tough, the older the fruit is. Pipinola are also great stuffed and baked. It has been known to even replace apples or pears in pies if you don’t have enough fruit to make a whole pie. I will definitely try that!
I still love rutabagas, but they won’t grow here in our tropical climate. I’ve actually tried. So instead, we’ll grow pipinola, and maybe in time I’ll like it just as much as rutabagas. Coincidentally, pigs actually do love it (as do they rutabagas!), and it’s good for them. It’s also good for us. Low in calories, high in vitamin C and calcium, this little plant has anti-inflammatory properties that are good for heart disease. It’s also been claimed to help dissolves kidney stones.
So if you get a chance, try it. Who knows you may come to love it!
Follow my blog