The amazing avocado

It takes getting used to but has so many uses

To ripen: Store at room temperature till the fruit is firm but dents slightly when held and pressed with your thumb. When ripe, the flesh has the consistency of firm butter and a faint nutlike flavor. It has a high fat content, containing 10 to 20 percent oil, and is rich in protein.

I hated avocado when I was a kid. Mom would serve it in green salads. I wasn’t fond of salads either. They often became the sad part of dinner, what I didn’t eat, and were left for me for breakfast. A cold, soggy salad was about as yucky as a thing could be, and when the leftover avocado had turned almost black, it was too much.

Then, as a teen-ager, I got a part-time job on an avocado farm. One day the farmer and I had driven the tractor to the far end of the field when he announced it was time for lunch. As luck would have it, I’d left my food at the barn. The farmer said he would share his sandwich with me. And what did he share? Yep, an avocado sandwich.

Not to hurt his feelings, I took a bite, not knowing if I would be able to down it. To my surprise it was delicious! The sandwich was seasoned with lots of pepper and sliced sweet onion, and the avocado was swimming in mayonnaise. Just like that, I had learned to like avocado.

Years later, when I was in the Air Force, a group of us were transferring trains in New York’s Pennsylvania Station when I spotted a man selling avocados. I purchased one. The boys from California knew what it was, but several Midwestern guys had never seen or tasted an avocado. Back at the base, I cut it up in bite size pieces. Sure enough, to those who had never experienced the taste, it was just as yucky as when I was a kid.

Avocado is definitely an acquired taste. It takes time for some to learn to savor the fine flavor of this fruit. Yes, the avocado is a fruit, as it is grown on a tree (a member of the laurel family). It is mostly enjoyed as a vegetable, however, eaten fresh on a salad, maybe with a bit of pepper and/or lemon juice, or made into a spicy guacamole dip.

Avocado is native to the Americas, and the first Europeans to enjoy it were the Spanish conquistadors. Early Americans called the avocado “alligator pear,” as they couldn’t pronounce the Spanish word for avocado, ahuacate. They ignored the fruit until the name was changed to avocado—curiously, a cross between “avocat” and “abogado,” the French and Spanish terms for “lawyer.”

Avocados are enjoyed in many ways by many cultures. They are made into ice cream in Brazil. The Japanese add them to sushi, while the Taiwanese eat them with milk and sugar. In Nicaragua they are filled with cheese, battered, browned and baked. Indonesians mix avocado with milk, coffee and rum to make a delicious cold drink. If you are new to the avocado, many of these recipes might sound a bit strange.

One of my favorite recipes is for chilled avocado summer soup, made much as it is in Ecuador.

Richard S. Calhoun, a resident of Oroville, is the author of the Breakfast Around the World cookbook and co-author of The ABC’s of Food reference book for middle- and high-school students.

1 large ripe avocado, peeled and seeded

4 cups canned chicken broth

1 cup sour cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Grated sweet onion (optional)

Minced fresh dill weed or crushed dill seed to taste

In a blender, blend avocado until smooth. Add broth and sour cream. Season to taste. Add grated onion, if desired. Pour into a bowl and chill the avocado mixture until it jells. Serve in small bowls and garnish with dill.

Makes 4 servings

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