This striking plant is a member of the cucumber family (Cucurbitaceae). Also known as Caigua (pronounced kai-wa), Slipper Gourd and Stuffing Cucumber, it comes from Peru. It is also grown in other South American countries, India, Bhutan and Nepal.
Achocha climbs up to 4 or 5 metres in a season by means of branched tendrils and has small, greenish-yellow flowers. (Its growth habit and appearance remind me a bit of White Bryony, Bryonia diocia.)
Its fruits are pale green mini gourds, about 6-15cm long, with a hollow, spongy interior containing up to a dozen seeds. Mature seeds are hard, uneven in shape and dark brown. They look more like small bark chips than cucumber seeds. As Achocha is self-fertile and doesn’t cross-pollinate with any cucumbers or squashes, it is easy to save the seed – which is what I’ve done.
Young Achocha fruit are pleasant to eat raw: they are crunchy and taste like a cross between cucumber and pea pods.
They can also be stir-fried. When older, they become fibrous and need to be cooked: made into curries, stuffed and baked or used to make pickles or chutney.
See http://bcukrecipes.blog.co.uk/2009/11/04/cooking-with-achocha-7306012/ for a curry recipe and http://www.appalachianfeet.com/2010/12/13/how-to-grow-and-use-achochacaigua-a-problem-free-cucumber-substitute-wrecipes/ for another recipe and photos.
Achocha is reckoned to be good for you and, according to Wikipedia, studies show it may reduce cholesterol levels.
Achocha is more tolerant of low temperatures than courgettes and squashes and survived in our mild 2011 autumn for several weeks after the courgette plants had died. To grow, sow seeds on a light windowsill indoors in mid to late April and then move the young plants to their permanent outdoor home in late May or early June. Give plants a trellis or frame to climb up, otherwise they’ll sprawl along the ground. Support seedlings with a stick, so their tendrils have something to grip, and keep them more than a tendril’s length of other plants or you’ll end up with a kind of green spaghetti that is impossible to untangle.