The summer fruits are here, so let’s hear a big cheer for avocados, mangos, peaches and the rest! I’m going to start out with avocados, which are commonly called vegetables when they are actually fruits that are treated like vegetables, just like chile pods. W. Hughes, physician to King Charles II of England, visiting Jamaica in 1672, wrote that the avocado was: “One of the most rare and pleasant fruits of the island. It nourisheth and strengtheneth the body, corroborating the spirits and procuring lust exceedingly.” In 1833, Judge Henry Perrine planted the first avocado tree in Florida, while in 1871 in California, the first successful introduction of avocado trees was planted by Judge R. B. Ord of Santa Barbara, who secured the trees from Mexico in 1871. The oldest living tree is found on the University of California, Berkeley campus and was planted in 1879.
All ‘Hass’ avocado trees are related to a single “mother tree” that was planted by Rudolph Hass in 1926 in La Habra Heights, California. Hass patented the resulting tree in 1935–the first U.S. patent on a tree–and made a contract with Whittier nurseryman Harold Brokaw to grow and distribute the trees produced by the seeds of the “mother tree.” Hass received 25 percent of the money, but no one respected the patent and Hass made a profit of less than $5,000. The U.S. avocado industry today makes over $1 billion annually from the heavy-bearing, high quality fruit of Hass’s cultivar, and it accounts for around 80%, worldwide, of all avocados grown today. The ‘Hass’ variety produces fruit year-round, unlike the ‘Fuerte’, and has more and larger fruit, with a longer shelf life and a richer flavor.
The Ultimate Chilehead Guacamole
Named from ahuacatl “testicle” and mole, meaning “mixture,” this pulpy sauce moved from strictly Mexican use into America around 1900 and slowly increased in popularity as the avocado became more available in American supermarkets. It really took off after the introduction of corn chips in the 1960s and now is found pre-made in various packages everywhere, but most of them are bland and lack the full flavor of guacamole made from scratch. This version is traditionally made with a molcajete y mano, a large Mexican mortar and pestle carved from volcanic rock. If you don’t have a molcajete y mano, you can smash the avocados with a fork or potato masher.
2 ripe avocados
1/2 tomato, chopped
1/2 clove garlic
2 habanero chiles, roasted, peeled, stemmed and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Salt to taste
For the chips:
12 small fresh corn tortillas, cut into wedges
2 cups corn oil
Salt to taste
Peel and pit the avocados, then grind them in the molcajete. Add the garlic, chiles and cilantro and keep grinding. Gently squeeze in the lime juice and add salt to taste. Transfer to a bowl and serve with fresh Mexican tortilla chips.
To make the tortilla chips, heat the oil in a large frying pan until it reaches 350 degrees F. Fry the tortilla wedges in batches, cooking each for about 3 minutes, or until they become a nice shade of golden brown. Sprinkle the chips with salt then keep them warm in a 200 degree F. oven.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Heat Scale: Hot
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