Red, white and green

Dip into California’s crop for your Fourth of July celebrations

Steve Schuman sells organic Hass avocados from Stehly Farm at the Thursday Night Market in downtown Chico.

Steve Schuman sells organic Hass avocados from Stehly Farm at the Thursday Night Market in downtown Chico.

Photo By Jason cassidy

Henri’s well-meaning sister overstepped her boundaries the other day. “Mondays are not special occasions,” she said, returning my breakfast-time bottle of blueberry Stoli to the freezer. Wrong! Fortunately, she redeemed herself by serving me breakfast in bed, soft-boiled eggs on toast, with sliced avocado. (Not pretty, but delicious.) And suggesting that avocado, like bacon, makes almost every dish better. Good thing, too, because they’re abundant and inexpensive these days, especially here in the Chico area, from the farmers’ markets to the grocery stores.

Native to the Americas, the avocado originated in south-central Mexico, and archaeologists have found pits nearly 3,000 years old buried with Incan mummies. The Aztecs called them “ahuacatl,” meaning “testicle,” which the Spanish pronounced aguacate (hence the word guacamole). Today, avocados are grown year-round in California, the state producing 95 percent of the nation’s crop, mostly between San Luis Obispo and the Mexican border and mostly of the Hass variety. San Diego County alone produces 40 percent of all California avocados. One avocado tree can produce up to 120 pieces of fruit, or 60 pounds, a year.

While Henri is impressed with experienced farmers’ market growers, who check for ripeness by color (the darker green, the less ripe), he has always used the “press test,” which usually works fine: Gently press the outside. There should be a slight give. If it’s still hard to the touch, it’s not ripe. If it’s mushy or feels hollow, it’s overripe.

A couple of Henri’s favorite summer avocado recipes:

Avocado Butter
An absolutely delicious spread for barbecued corn.

1 large avocado (must be soft and ripe, or it won’t blend)
1/2 cup Brummel & Brown yogurt butter
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 cup Italian dressing
4-6 ears of fresh corn, cut in half (Henri prefers sweet white, but yellow is excellent as well)

Place corn in a large Ziploc bag with Italian dressing, seal and refrigerate for at least a half-hour. Combine avocado, yogurt butter, chili powder and cumin in a medium mixing bowl. Whip vigorously with a fork to blend thoroughly. Wrap corn in aluminum foil and grill eight to 10 minutes or until done (rolling periodically to ensure even cooking). Spread avocado-butter mixture over corn with fork or basting brush.

Henri’s Classic Guacamole
Serve with tortilla chips or veggies (carrots, jicama, sliced bell peppers).

2 ripe avocados
1/2 cup minced red onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 serrano chile, minced (seeds removed)
3 tablespoons cilantro leaves, finely chopped
juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 ripe tomato, chopped

Mash the avocado into mixing bowl with fork. Add other ingredients and continue mashing. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole to prevent oxidation. Refrigerate until ready. Just before serving, add the chopped tomato.

Note: Guacamole can be customized to your heart’s content. Among other possible ingredients you might consider adding: chopped pistachios, cashews or pine nuts (though beware of cheap imported pine nuts, which are more likely to have spoiled), cheese (cheddar, feta, Parmesan, etc.), red-pepper flakes, cumin, tarragon, basil or even a hint of white-wine vinegar or vermouth. You can also try it with different peppers, such as Anaheims, jalapeños, Habaneros or bells.