Do you know how to pick out a perfectly ripe avocado?
“Alligator pears” are plentiful in the area. For those residents who don’t grow this unlikely looking fruit, or have friends who do, some of the local grocery stores carry avocados delivered straight from Del Rey’s packing plant.
Some of the best known varieties grown and/or sold in Southern California are Bacon, Fuerte, Zutano and Hass. Bacon and Fuerte are both in their growing season now and Zutano trees produce fruit from September through January. Hass avocados, on the other hand, are ready for picking anywhere from late January to July and have a long shelf life. All of which makes Hass avocados the most common and popular variety.
Not only are they available in all of the grocery stores, but Hass is the only variety of avocado sold at most major markets. According to business owner Muhammad Rahman, who sells only local produce, they are the only kind of avocado that his customers want: “They are picky about that.”
So, finding the green pear-shaped fruit with the creamy yellow-green flesh is not hard, but knowing which one to choose for eating is another story for anyone new to the avocado.
Unlike some fruit, avocados mature on the tree but do not ripen until after they are picked or have fallen off the tree. Most kinds of avocados stay green or darken slightly as they ripen, while the Hass avocado turns a purplish black.
No matter which variety of avocado you prefer to eat, the best way to tell if an avocado is ripe is with a touch test. For Delos Eyer, chef and owner of La Caseta Fine Mexican Food Restaurant in Fallbrook, that means “giving a little squeeze to both ends” of the avocado. He said, “To know the whole fruit is ripe, [check for] a soft give at the top and the bottom.”
To hasten the ripening of the fruit, Eyer suggests placing the avocado “in a brown paper bag in a warm place,” such as near the stove. Some people also add an apple or a banana to the bag for even faster ripening, which occurs because of the gases given off by the fruit.
In any case, when picking out a ripe avocado, Eyer says you want to be sure that “not just the bottom is ripe, but the top is too,” so you are not getting a half-ripe avocado.
Once you find a ripe avocado, there are many ways to eat the fruit. One of the most popular avocado dishes is guacamole. Eyer’s basic recipe for guacamole calls for ripe avocados mashed with a big fork or potato masher, fresh lime juice, and a little salt. After that, added ingredients are a matter of individual taste.
Eyer likes to add cilantro, tomato and white onion. Some people add jalapeño, fresh or granulated garlic and onion salt. Pepper can be added too, but Eyer does not recommend sour cream or mayonnaise as they take away from the taste of avocado in the dish.
Besides mashing avocados for guacamole, they can be sliced and diced to be included in or on top of a variety of dishes. At La Caseta, sliced avocados are put inside their grilled chicken wraps and included in the specialty tacos. Fans of sliced avocado are also placed onto burritos as a tasty garnish. Chunks of avocado are used for garnish on the chicken tortilla soup, while guacamole is another colorful addition on top of several dishes.
The California Avocado Commission recommends washing avocados as well as your hands (and making sure you have disinfected all surfaces after cutting raw meat, poultry or eggs) before cutting up your avocados.
For more information on avocados, including recipes, see www.avocado.org or www.avocadocentral.com.