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Alligator Pears:
The fruit that wants to be a vegetable

By Uncle Paul

This month I would like to take you on a different kind of adventure, a mystery adventure. I say mystery because it is where you will find a fruit that acts like a vegetable and has many aliases. A fruit that was thought to be bad for you but is truly good. A fruit that once had a reputation for being an aphrodisiac and because of this it wasnÕt purchased by anyone wishing to protect their image. A fruit that never gets ripe on the tree, has over a thousand varieties, and is pollinated by bats. It was once considered a luxury fruit and only served to royalty and in Brazil is wrapped up and given as a wedding present. This is the fruit called the alligator pear.

So how did the alligator pear get its name? The English living in Jamaica first called it the alligator pear. Some speculate that they were comparing the skin to that of an alligator. European sailors in the 1700s called it midshipman's butter or butter pears because they liked to spread it on hardtack biscuits. The Dutch called it avocaat; Spain abogado; France avocatier; Trinidad and Tobago zaboca. The alligator pear has many aliases, but some of us that just donÕt know any better call them avocados.

Alligator pears seem almost too luscious to be healthful, but the fat they contain is highly monounsaturated, the kind that's associated with a healthy heart. Alligator pears are also rich in vitamin E, another heart helper. Although the banana is thought of as an exemplary potassium source, the avocado actually supplies 60% more potassium, ounce for ounce. These velvety Òvegetable fruitsÓ are high in fiber, and provide substantial amounts of folate (folic acid), vitamin B6, and pantothenic acid, as well as some iron, copper, and magnesium. Not only are they delicious to eat, but they are also a nutritious addition to a healthy diet. Hass alligator pears or avocados are cholesterol-free, sodium-free, and low in saturated fat. They're a nutrient dense food that offers potassium, magnesium, folate, dietary fiber, riboflavin, and vitamins C, E, and B6.

On the phytochemical front, avocados contain glutathione, an antioxidant with anti-carcinogenic potential. They also contain a significant amount of a cholesterol-lowering phytosterol called beta-sitosterol. So donÕt be scared of the high fat content of the alligator pear for it lowers cholesterol and therefore great for the heart.

The Hass California avocado is available year-round and has a rich flavor and creamy texture. This is the best variety for guacamole, but it turns a bit mushy in salads. The skin turns almost black when the avocado is ripe Ñ this, unfortunately, can camouflage bad bruises. The Pinkerton peels easily and has excellent flavor. The Reed is a large, round avocado that slips easily from the peel, and has good flavor and texture. It will stay firm even when ripe, so it's great in salads. The Fuerte Florida avocado is in season from late fall through spring. It's not quite as buttery as the Hass avocado, but its flavor is excellent. The bacon avocado is a sweet, smooth-skinned variety that shows up in the middle of winter, but isnÕt as flavorful as other avocados and is also known as the green skin avocado.

Hass is the most popular. Eighty percent of CaliforniaÕs 6,000 alligator pear farms grow the Hass variety. The Hass avocado tree began life as a mistake. It was a lucky-chance seedling planted by A.R. Rideout of Whittier. Rideout, an innovator and pioneer in avocados, was always searching for new varieties and tended to plant whatever seeds he could find, often along streets or in neighbors' yards. In the late 1920s, Mr. Rudolph Hass, a postman, purchased the seedling tree from Rideout, and planted it in his yard. Rudolph Hass did buy the avocado seeds from Mr. Rideout, but he planted them himself. Rudy had used all of the money he had to buy the land for his grove. He was only earning 25 cents an hour working as a postman so he couldn't afford trees.

ÒMr. Rideout was noted for using any seeds he could get his hands on, including the garbage from restaurants. His selection process occurred when the seedlings were ready to graft. Rudolph Hass knew nothing about raising trees, but Mr. Rideout was very helpful to him and instructed him to plant three seeds in a cluster wherever he wanted a tree, and then pull up the two weakest seedlings and graft the strongest. For this reason, no one knows what kind of seed produced the Hass tree.Ó

Every Hass avocado tree today is descended from that original tree Rudolph Hass patented as the Hass avocado in 1935, but since it was the first patent ever issued on a tree, it got no respect. Growers would buy one tree from Mr. Brokaw who had the exclusive right to produce the nursery trees. They would then re-graft their whole grove with the bud wood from that one tree. For that reason Rudolph Hass made only $5,000 royalties on his patent. However, he was the first to have a producing grove of Hass avocados, albeit a very small grove. He found a ready market for the fruit at the Model Grocery Store in Pasadena where the chefs for wealthy people shopped. Once they sampled the Hass variety, they insisted on it.

Mrs. Rudolph Hass lived to the ripe old age of 98 after a lifetime of eating a half piece of wheat toast with avocado slices on it with breakfast just about every morning.

So what are the uses of the alligator pear or avocado? Indians in tropical America break them in half, add salt and eat with tortillas and a cup of coffee Ñ as a complete meal. In North America, avocados are primarily served as salad vegetables, merely halved and garnished with seasonings, limejuice, lemon juice, vinegar, mayonnaise, or other dressings. Often the halves are stuffed with shrimp, crab, or other seafood. Avocado flesh may be sliced or diced and combined with tomatoes, cucumbers, or other vegetables and served as a salad. The seasoned flesh is sometimes used as a sandwich filling. Avocado, cream cheese, and pineapple juice may be blended as a creamy dressing for fruit salads.

Mexican guacamole, a blend of the pureed flesh with lemon or limejuice, onion juice or powder, minced garlic, chili powder or Tabasco sauce, and salt and pepper has become a widely popular dip for crackers, potato chips, or other snacks. The ingredients of guacamole may vary and some people add mayonnaise.

Because of its tannin content, the flesh becomes bitter if cooked. In Guatemalan restaurants, a ripe avocado is placed on the table when a hot dish is served and the diner scoops out the flesh and adds it just before eating.

In Brazil, the avocado is regarded more as a fruit than as a vegetable and is used mostly mashed in sherbet, ice cream, or milk shakes. Avocado flesh is added to heated ice cream mixes (such as boiled custard) only after they have cooled. If mashed by hand, the fork must be a silver one to avoid discoloring the avocado. A New Zealand recipe for avocado ice cream is a blend of avocado, lemon juice, orange juice, grated orange rind, milk, cream, sugar and salt, frozen, beaten until creamy, and frozen again. Some Hawaiian Asians prefer the avocado sweetened with sugar and they combine it with fruits such as pineapple, orange, grapefruit, dates, or banana.

In Java, avocado flesh is thoroughly mixed with strong black coffee, sweetened and eaten as a dessert.

So next time you pick up an avocado, realize it is a fruit, high in fat but good for you. It has many names and can be treated as either a fruit or a vegetable. My favorite way to enjoy this fruit is on wheat toast with mayo, tomatoes, lettuce, salt, and walnuts.

Uncle Paul, along with his wife Calla, owns Uncle Paul’s European Style Open Air Produce Market, 2310 SE Hawthorne, 503-484-8612.

Right Lib

Walk About Magazine, is a northwest walking and hiking publication in Portland, Oregon.


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