Aztecs regarded avocados as the symbol of love and fertility because they grow in pairs. That may be true because Americans have certainly developed a deep love affair with them. The California production alone of the delightful, creamy Hass avocado has risen from 682,025,323 pounds in 2004 to 2,192,143,900 pounds in 2017!
Do you know where your avocados come from?
Around 1920, near Los Angeles, postal worker Rudolph Hass planted an avocado seed. He thought that he’d graft the popular variety of avocado onto it. The grafts didn’t take so he decided to chop down the tree. Hass’s children interceded. They pleaded for the tree because they loved its fruit more than any they’d tasted. (The freeze-resistant, thinner-skinned, less rich-tasting Fuerte was most popular at that time.)
Hass found that his kids were right. In 1935, he took a patent on the Hass Avocado, the buttery variety that now makes up 95 percent of the billions of avocados we eat in the United States each year.
Hass and his rebel tree are only part of the story. The avocado in various forms has been a beloved staple from Mexico to Columbia for thousands of years. Sixteenth century Spanish explorers to Central America and the Caribbean first discovered this green tree fruit with leathery skin and creamy, pale green flesh. In 1750 the avocado arrived in Indonesia, Florida in 1833, Israel in 1908, Australia in the late 1800s and California in 1856. Today orchards around San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara grow about 90% of America’s avocadoes.
If you travel to Florida and the Caribbean, you’ll find a diverse range of avocados. Florida grows much larger, smooth-skinned avocados with juicy, sweet flesh popular among Caribbean immigrants. Many Floridians dislike California avocado varieties because they taste “oily.” Californians feel the low-fat Florida avocados taste “watery.” A true aficionado of the fruit, will conclude that each variety offers its own culinary virtues.
Always purchase avocados rock hard (a few days to a week ahead) and allow them to ripen on the kitchen counter away from direct sunlight. When they give a little to gentle pressure, the skin is still tight to the flesh, and before the pit rattles, refrigerate them. Don’t refrigerate before they ripen or the flesh will become bitter. (To speed ripening place in a paper bag with a banana or apple.) Ripened this way, avocados will keep about a week if you don’t bang and bruise them.
Wash avocados before cutting. The best way to cut them is to slice in half so you have two pear shaped halves. To remove the pit, slightly hit the end of the blade of a chef’s knife into the pit and twist. Cut each half into two or three slices and peel off the skin, starting at the stem end. At this point, slice or dice the avocado into desired size and shape. To save an avocado half (with pit) from browning, drizzle lemon or lime juice over the cut surface and press a piece of wet paper towel over to seal out air. Place in an airtight container or in a zipper baggie. (No, the pit does not keep avocado from browning. Only water, oil or citrus will do this.)
California avocado season begins ramping up around February and lasts through September with peak output during the summer. Whether you use your avocados for salad, sushi, sandwiches, toast or smoothies; whether prepare sauce, pilaf, purée them into soup or eat them alone with a drizzle of lime juice and salt, you can send love notes to ancient Mexico and Central America and Rudolph Hass and his perceptive children for our delicious avocado.
Avocado Cream Soup with Tequila (Sopa De Crema De Aguacate)
This is a nueva cocina mexicana recipe. Most recipes for this classic soup call for cream, but this recipe is lighter and easier to prepare. A large avocado weighs between 8 and 10 ounces. The 8-ounce yields about 1-1/4-cups diced flesh and the 10-ounce yields about 1-1/2 cups.
Adapted from “New Cooking from Old Mexico” by Jim Peyton
Yields 5 cups, about 4 servings
1 lb. avocados, 2 medium-large
1 C. freshly squeezed orange juice, about two 6- to 7-ounce oranges
2 T. tequila
1 medium serrano chili, 1 tablespoon stemmed and diced
1/2 t. ground cumin
4 T. finely sliced cilantro
3 C. de-fatted chicken stock or flavorful vegetable stock
3 to 4 T. fresh lime juice
Red chili powder
Optional: Mexican crema or sour cream
Peel, seed, and dice avocados. Place into food processor with orange juice, tequila, chili, cumin, and cilantro. Purée until smooth.
Transfer soup to tureen. Stir in chicken stock and lime juice. Season to taste with salt and more lime juice as necessary. Cover tureen. Refrigerate soup 30 minutes to 2 hours to chill, or serve at room temperature.
To Serve: Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with cilantro leaves and a dusting of chili powder. And a swirl of crema or sour cream if you are so inclined.
Seasoned Mashed Avocado (Guacamole)
In Mexico, guacamole is made in a traditional molcajete or volcanic stone mortar with pestle.
Adapted from “Discovering Global Cuisines” by Nancy Krcek Allen
Yields 3 cups
1 lb. avocadoes, 2 large
2 T. finely diced white onion
1 medium serrano chili, stemmed and finely diced
1/3 to 2/3 C. finely diced ripe tomato
1/4 C. finely sliced cilantro, more to taste
2 T. fresh lime juice, more to taste
Warm corn tortillas or corn chips
Optional: jicama peeled and cut into long sticks for dipping
Slice avocados in half, remove pits, and evenly cross-hatch flesh of each half. Scoop out cubed avocado with spoon into a bowl or molcajete to yield about 2-1/2 cups.
Lightly mash avocados until chunky, but adhering together. Fold in onion, chili, tomato, and cilantro. Season with lime juice and salt to taste. Serve immediately with tortillas, chips or jicama sticks.