A gift from God in a little green box. The avocado is a tree from Mexico and Central America. Now the main use the Mexicans and Southwest Indians put them to seems to be guacamole. You know, guacamole, a tasteless mess of smashed avocado, tomato, chili pepper, and whatever else strikes the maker. No taste and some amount of heat, usually. Actually, the Indians didn’t really like chilies all that much. For all that the moronic audience cheers every time Emeril tosses some into a mix, they don’t add a whole lot other than heat. At least to my palette. Yes, Virginia, there is something to back this up. When my wife was a young, supple thing (she still is, in her heart and mine) she worked at the Shiprock Indian Reservation in the Four Corners area as part of her masters as a Nurse-Midwife. Since she is ¼ Cherokee, she blended in semi-well. The Indian women would walk for as much as 50 miles to get to the clinic where she worked. The women complained about heartburn and sores in the mouth. So the doctors told them to stop eating chilies. They did. Their indigestion cleared up. Their mouths healed. They said that they could taste the food much better. They also developed scurvy. You see, the chilies were the only source for vitamin C. Now, limes are frequently added to Mexican stuff today, but the Indians didn’t and don’t always have access to them. Particularly not the real desert tribes. So they ate chilies and had heartburn. Or they died.
The Indian women, mostly Navajo, would wander in and tell the docs – “I will deliver a baby”. The docs learned not to pooh-pooh them even if they didn’t look ready. They usually had the kid in the next few hours. The docs wanted to keep the women and children for a while. But in a few hours the women would pick up the baby and head back out. On foot. The only time there was a real problem was if there were twins. You see, the Navajo believe that there is only one soul per birth. The medics knew that the next time they saw the woman, there would only be one child. That’s the way it was.
Onward to avocados – the Mexican avocados were introduced into California and grown successfully in the 19th century. Most of these are of the large green smooth skinned variety. Not my favorites. Suitable for beating into mushy guacamole, etc. Now about 1926 a fellow named Rudolf Hass bought and planted an avocado tree. A tree takes several years to mature and bear fruit. Sometime in the late ‘20s or early ‘30s the thing started to bear. The fruit looked terrible to someone expecting the normal avocado. The thing was a bit smallish. The skin was rough and wrinkled and dark green. But wow, the thing really tasted great. Something like 80% of the avocados grown in California are Hass from grafts from the mother tree. Mr. Hass was smart enough to patent the thing in 1935. The mother tree finally died around 2002 of root rot. Rest in peace, mother tree. You made the world a nicer and tastier place.
You people out in California might be able to home grow your own, but I can tell you they don’t do worth a flip in Atlanta. Now, you know the drill for the kiddies: poke some toothpicks into the pit and suspend it over a glass of water so that just the bottom is in the water. Mostly they die instead of growing. What you want is to get some nutrients into the water and get the thing just enough indirect light to start it going. When it gets some roots and starts to split for the trunk to emerge, get it into some soil and get it more sun. You might make a houseplant or a greenhouse plant.
Now, it seems that there are some people out there who may not have heard how to get into these little treasure boxes. It is really simple. Take a sharp kitchen knife. Chef’s knife, medium size or better. Not a paring knife. You could get hurt. Now put the thing down on the cutting board hold it steady with your free hand. (Keep the hand out of the knife path). You want to slice along the long axis – side, top, bottom, back to start, not around the middle. Gently and firmly slice down to, but not into, the large pit. Now pick the whole thing up and carefully hold the knife steady and rotate the fruit so that you slice a clean path all the way around the thing, keeping the pit in contact with the knife. If you do the initial cut at the bottom of the blade and the blade is long enough, you just walk the avocado down the blade instead of slicing. Put the knife down. A hand on each half. About a 1/8 to ¼ twist and pull the halves apart. Now you have one half with no pit and a nice hole. The other half has a pit. Brace the fruit, pit up on the cutting board with the free hand. Pop the knife into the pit like an ax on the top at about 45°. Careful! Don’t miss or go through, you just want to lodge the knife firmly in the pit. Now, holding the half steady, rotate the knife and pit a bit and lift the pit out. Nearly there. Put down the avocado half. Holding the knife with the sharp edge and pit away from yourself, reach around the knife from the back with the thumb and fingers of the free hand, and push the pit off in a pinching motion. It should pop off easily. Remember – from the back. That knife is sharp!
Whew! This is a whole lot less work to do than to write. It only takes a second or two. Now we have two nice halves with pit holes in them. We can do further operations or we can just stop here. Stop here? Well – yes. Just take any really nice, garlicky Italian type salad dressing and fill up the pit hole. Take a decent teaspoon and scrape a bite of avocado flesh with some dressing. Wonderful! You can use any dressing that you like, but – oh, my – garlicky Italian is really special.
Italian dressing is just oil and vinegar and spices, really: Dump in equal parts oil and vinegar (or whatever portions seem good). Add salt, pepper, smashed and chopped garlic, whatever other spices you like. If you are short on time or just don’t like to make dressing, use bottled. A really nice one is to take the original Newman’s Own Italian and smash/chop a couple of cloves of garlic and stuff them into the bottle. Let it sit for a couple of days to mellow out. Very nice.
If you want to go further with your avocado, say a sandwich or salad or something, do this: For wedges – there are a couple of techniques. Just cut the thing into wedges and then, with a table knife (you don’t want sharp here) strip off the skin. It’s easy if you place the skin on the cutting board and then just slide the knife down the skin. The other way is also good for cubes. Just score with a table knife down to the skin in the shapes you want, either wedges or cubes. With the thumbs and fingers, turn the skin outside in. Then just pop the flesh off with the table knife. Takes a bit of practice to get it just right, but it is pretty easy.
Now the salad is easy, fresh greens, tomatoes, sliced or chopped onions, sliced mushrooms, maybe a shrimp or six, or some strips of nice fish or chicken or whatever, capers, kitchen sink, whatever else you’ve got/like. Arrange avocado wedges on top to look nice. Raisins, cranberries, croutons, nuts, whatever. Cheese of your choice, shredded. I like a bit of Feta crumbled up in here. Salad dressing of choice. I like a smooth red French or Honey Mustard or Blue Cheese Vinaigrette depending on the goodies in the salad. A citrus type dressing also does well if you like that kind of stuff. You really don’t need anything else to eat. This is a super-duper hot weather meal all by its lonesome.
Sandwich – a good, fresh, light bread goes well here. The avocado is a bit delicate for a robust bread. An old fashioned French Pan de Mie or Pullman loaf goes well. It’s a pain to make: takes a special pan and so on, you may want to try a local bakery. A good grade white French is also good and easy to do. Don’t slice too thick, we want to balance all the tastes. You know what you like: Mayonnaise. Mustard – very light, good grade brown, gray poupon, stone ground, German, whatever. Steer clear of the yellow mustards, they just don’t cut it on this level of tasting. But light touch, light touch, we don’t want to overpower. Lettuce, a nice Romaine heart leaf or two goes well. Tomato, of course. Sliced mushrooms are nice. If you use onions make sure they are mild and sweet and sliced thin. Layer on the wedges of avocado. Enjoy. Add or subtract ingredients to your heart’s content.
Oh, the cubes? Use them wherever it seems appropriate. Salads if you don’t want to fool with wedges, although they are prettier.
Of course, if you insist on making something with a paste, just scrape the flesh out with a tablespoon. Easy.