I scoop the pale green pulp from its shell and douse it with fresh lime juice, hot sauce and coarse salt. For me, the avocado pulp is as much a treat as ice cream. I savor every spoonful, scraping the flesh from the shell. Affectionately calling them “alligator pears” because of their rough skin doesn’t seem fair to this aristocratic fruit.
The love affair with the avocado originated in south-central Mexico sometime between 7000 and 5000 B.C. Archaeologists in Peru have found domesticated avocado seeds buried with Incan mummies dating back to 750 B.C., and there is evidence that avocados were cultivated in Mexico as early as 500 B.C. Called ahuacatl in the Aztec language, they were a forbidden fruit because they were believed to be an aphrodisiac.
By the early 1900s, they had become a cash crop in California. Today, California is the No. 1 producer and home to 95 percent of the nation’s crop. San Diego county, which produces 40 percent of California avocados, is the avocado capital of the nation.
California avocados are grown year-round. A single tree can produce up to 60 pounds of fruit a year — that’s approximately 120 pieces. Although avocados are grown in South Florida, the California Haas with its higher fat content is king.
I’m often asked how you tell when an avocado is ripe: Hass avocados’ pebbly skins turn from green to nearly black when ripe. Look for fruit that is average to large, oval-shaped and heavy. If the avocado is soft and feels like the shell is somewhat empty, don’t buy it. It should be soft to the touch, but your finger should not pierce the skin when you handle the fruit.
To ripen an avocado, place it in a brown paper bag for a few days. If you want to accelerate the process, place a banana or apple in the bag to give off ethylene gas, a ripening agent. You can refrigerate the ripe fruit for a day or two. If you eat only half, brush a little lemon or lime juice over the exposed avocado to prevent darkening. When you peel the rest of the avocado for eating, just trim off the darkened areas.
I have had avocados prepared thousands of ways including whipped into ice cream. Here are a few of my favorite ways to eat them.
- Cut in half, remove the pit and squeeze a fresh lime over them. Add a drizzle of hot sauce and kosher salt to eat out of hand.
- Make a simple guacamole by mashing and combining avocado with lime juice, minced hot jalapeno peppers, scallions, ground cumin and cilantro.
- Fill a tortilla with avocado, jack or cheddar cheese and salsa. Fold the tortilla in half and saute in a hot skillet to make a quesadilla.
- Chop and sprinkle over brown rice and black beans with minced cilantro over all.
By Chef Steve Petusevsky