Our super field guy Chuck in an avocado orchard in the Mexican state of Michoacán
There is something I’ve observed about guacamole and the people who make it — everyone has the “best ever” recipe and each is as individual as the person who makes it. Mike, the berry buyer here at our national produce office in Watsonville, has a simple, five ingredient recipe he got when he worked at a Whole Foods Market in Santa Rosa, California. Amy, a research and information administrator in Austin, has a “secret” recipe from her grandmother who insisted the spices be fresh — “not the 10 year old stuff in your cupboard.” My personal recipe — which, by the way, is the best ever — has sour cream to improve the texture. This, according to the Southwest purist, is not “real” guacamole but some fancy-pants California dip that only looks like guacamole. The truth is great guacamole is a matter of taste and like wine, is largely determined by what the person consuming it likes or dislikes. But all the recipes have one thing in common – they all start with avocados.
Also know as an Alligator Pear, the avocado is actually a fruit. Originating in the Americas, the avocado was a large part of the diet of the indigenous people of Central and South America at the time they were encountered by Spanish explorers (who were credited with introducing the fruit to Europeans). Commercial cultivation of the avocado did not happen until the beginning of the 20th century and it wasn’t until the chance discovery of the Hass variety in 1926 that avocado production began in earnest.
Mexico is the largest producer of avocados in the world. The next four countries on the list for commercial production are the United States, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Indonesia —and you have to add all four together to come close to matching Mexico’s annual output. In the U.S., California and Florida produce the most fruit.
Here in the U.S .most of our avocados come from Mexico, Chile and domestically when in season. The California season starts in December but the peak in production is March, April and May. The season usually lasts until September but it’s hard to know how long the California season will last this year since a reduced crop is expected. The weather, the fires in Sothern California and the water shortage will make a crop about 30% lower than normal. Summer is the season for green skinned fruit out of Florida and we see Hass variety from all three locations in the summer as well. By September Mexico and Chile take over for almost 100 percent of our avocado needs as California finishes harvesting for the year.
Chilean Hass avocados — with companions
While the varieties produced all over the world number in the hundreds, there are two broad types of avocadoes. The most common commercial variety for sale here in the U.S. has a dark, bumpy skin — a type dominated by the Hass variety. This variety can be produced year round and is coveted for its high oil content and creamy texture. The second type of avocado commonly produced is a green skinned type — these varieties keep their green skin when ripe and commonly have lower oil content.
Bacon variety avocados – Los Angeles, California
Like most citrus, avocado trees are extremely sensitive to cold temperatures and will not tolerate prolonged periods below freezing. In favorable conditions, though, the avocado tree and fruit are remarkably resilient – needing little in the way of input and having few natural pests. In fact the biggest challenge to bringing avocados to market is weather and the fruit itself, which like many tropical fruits, need some help to ripen once they are off the tree and must be stored and shipped in a very narrow temperature range to avoid chill damage.
Avocados on the tree - Central Mexico
The challenge for a grocery store is to keep fruit on the shelves that is ripe enough to eat but not too ripe that it bruises (which will turn the interior black). It is for this reason that most avocado displays are shallow and the fruit is still firm to the touch. I like to buy my avocados firm to keep from have to cut out and dispose of bruised sections, so I try to get mine a few days before I need them. To finish ripening at home I place them in a bowl with any type of citrus or bananas. Both release ethylene gas which will help the avocado ripen. If you buy a lot of avocados at one time, make sure you check on them every day — avocados generate a lot of heat when ripening so the fruit at the bottom of the bowl will ripen faster that the fruit at the top.
Fancy-pants avocado “dip” – Watsonville, California
Here’s the recipe for a big bowl of my “best ever” guacamole:
- 8-10 medium avocados (ripe)
- ½ pint of cherry tomatoes (grape or regular variety- sliced into small pieces)
- 3 oz sour cream
- ¼ red onion (finely chopped)
- 1 hot pepper (I like Anaheim- finely chopped)
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin (or more to taste)
- ½ teaspoon chili powder (to taste
- Juice of 1 lemon (or 2 limes)
- Cilantro to taste (or not if you don’t like it)
- Salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients except the tomatoes, mashing first with a fork (or potato masher) and then blend with a firm whisk. Taste and correct the seasoning and then fold in the tomatoes at the end so they will be intact. Serve with tortilla chips to lots of opinionated friends.
Okay...bring it on. What’s your “best ever” guacamole?
Many thanks to Chuck Anunciation and Rodrigo Velasquez for contributing to this post.