Mirlitons or Merlitons?

Folks in New Orleans started putting up their Christmas decorations over the past weekend, which means strands of colored lights around the trunks of the palm trees and across the wrought-iron balconies. I remember our visit in February last year, when I was surprised to see that Mardi Gras merits its own wreaths and lights, in yellow, green, and purple. I wonder if they just leave up the green lights and change out the white and red?

Each evening, when dusk and the mosquitoes arrive, we put away our tools. Some go in the van, some go in the boat, whichever is closer. Well, yesterday morning, Brian took the van and, accidentally, all the sandpaper, to run errands. Barry and I looked at each other, at first dismayed, then gleeful. Then we jumped in Peepcar and headed to the French Market for a little shopping and sightseeing.

We�ve been here over a month, and this was the first time we�d been in the French Quarter (pronounced “De French Kwattuh”). We found free parking at the flea market end of the market and wandered, looking. At first, I thought it was like our own dear Pike Place Market, but only the fact that it�s an open air market with daily sellers. New Orleans has an anti-authority culture where anything goes. The same is not true of the Pike Place Market, where the balance of produce, flowers, and crafts is carefully governed and discussed by the general populace.

We found lots of fun and interesting junk, like alligator hides and purses with Marilyn Monroe silkscreened on them. A couple of live jazz bands playing for tips. Deep souvenir shops full of voodoo dolls and offensive t-shirts (one apron read, “Will cook for sex.”) Cafes with beignets and muffeletas and chicory coffee. Very little produce, and no flowers at all.

But there were a few oval-shaped squash, sized like avocadoes, but smooth and light green. Some grocery stores label them “mirlitons,” and some label them “merlitons,” and in fine print, the boxes say “chayote.” A week before Thanksgiving, the stores started selling big piles of the things. As Thanksgiving got closer, the piles got higher and the prices dropped lower. New Orleaneans must eat a heck of a lot of these things with their turkey! So I asked a fellow shopper in the grocery store, and she told me they’re baked until they’re soft (losing much of their volume in the process), then the flesh is scooped out and mixed with chopped meat and bread crumbs to make stuffing. I didn’t tell her that here on Cayenne, we peel ’em and eat ’em raw in salads. That might label us (accurately) as foreigners ’round here.