Monday, March 9, 2015

chayote chaos,* part 1

Theme (in the literary sense of the word) was the subject of it's cereus!, a post from August 2012 where I not only defined a theme for this blog but also illustrated the point by describing my astonishment at learning that a large cactus in our front garden was not a euphorbia but a cereus. (BTW, to understand the sheer gravitas of the piece, it helps to know that cereus is a homonym of serious.)

When I wrote it's cereus! I was reading The War of Art, a book about writing by the prolific novelist Steven Pressfield. Pressfield convinced me that I needed a theme for this blog. Not a subject, a theme.** After discussing the issue in detail, I made a sort of announcement:  "At last I think my major theme is 'getting things right.' Often this means simply learning something new, but it is the kind of learning that frequently requires discarding a preconception."

Last fall, when I started on a quest to grow chayote squash, I began to question whether "getting things right" is even possible. I had heard that chayotes were easy to grow in our climate, and I'd seen them sprout spontaneously from their blossom ends if they were not cooked in a timely enough manner. Little did I know that I was on the brink of vegetable chaos.

I had first eaten chayotes during the late 1950s, when my mother discovered them and quickly made them a family favorite: lightly steamed and served with butter, salt, and freshly ground pepper. Steve likes to grill chayotes after lightly brushing them with olive oil. Today I think this is the best way to prepare them, as it brings out their natural sweetness while cutting our intake of saturated fats.

In recent years I had seen chayotes growing locally on people's fences, and so I thought it would be fun to steal some, let them sprout, and plant them in our garden. Unfortunately I made this decision in the fall, and the fruit was substantially shriveled. The stems were tougher than I thought they'd be, and they exuded a sticky white goo that I'd never seen come out of a chayote. I furtively picked three and brought them home. Setting them under a skylight on our back porch, I waited for nature to take its course. It took a long time, but rather than producing a green stem, each one of them exploded into a mound of fluff. It was like dandelion fluff but the seeds and their silken parachutes were much larger.

At this point, I might have simply concluded that crime does not pay, but I chose to wade even deeper into chayote chaos.
to be continued . . .
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* I urge you to visit if you have any questions about how the word chayote should be pronounced. The plant, a native of Central America, was called chayohtli by the ancient Aztecs, upon whom the conquistadores imposed latinate orthography as well as so many other arbitrary standardsI must confess that the title of this posting is a silly attempt to imply an alliteration that is purely visual unless we want to think about how chaos should be pronounced in ancient Greek. Maybe some other time?

** The difference between subject and theme is dear to the heart of every serious student of literature, and is well defined in a brief document created by the National Park Service, of all people. Oh, that all government agencies would be so diligent in training their employees to understand language and culture!

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License