What Is the Louisiana Mirliton?
And how did New Orleans residents save this heirloom fruit?
NOLA residents take food seriously. Gumbo. Beignets. Crawfish boils.
But the humble Louisiana mirliton — a large, flavorful squash that many know as a chayote in Mexico — is a true testament to their dedication to their food culture. As Atlas Obscura shared, the beloved heirloom squash was first brought to Louisiana in the early 1800s. The so-called Louisiana mirliton has since come to flourish across the state, especially in New Orleans. The squash is used in dishes as diverse as shrimp-stuffed mirliton to vegan mirliton and bean stews.
But after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and other hurricanes, the cherished squash may very well have faded from Louisiana's culinary landscape. "By 2005, their population was already dwindling. Then, the storm blew in. The same winds and rains that devastated residents’ lives and property nearly wiped out the New Orleans mirliton population," writes Reina Gattuso in the Atlas Obscura piece. "After the storm, locals worried that Hurricane Katrina had taken a vital aspect of their culinary culture."
Thankfully, Louisiana residents weren't about to let the mirliton slip into oblivion. Along with informal efforts of everyday people, the "Adopt-a-Mirliton" project was born, which distributes heirloom mirlitons to farmers and takes steps to ensure the conservation of the squash. These days, you can see farmer's markets around New Orleans selling the green squash and the fruit is enjoying a renaissance of sorts.
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Next time we venture to New Orleans and we happen to see mirliton on a menu or at a farm stand, we'll be doubling up on our order.