I’m thinking a disquisition on the avocado might do the spirit-raising trick, since, in Europe, they still come into the ‘treat’ category of food.
The avocado has had an extraordinary rise in popularity, particularly among people young enough to look good wearing yoga clothing or tracksuits. These are the same people who have been responsible in the UK for a rise in visits to A&E departments at hospitals with stab wounds in their palms, the result of being unaware of the trick to removing an avocado’s stone safely. That stone which, incidentally, qualifies the avocado as a berry.
British supermarkets Marks & Spencer and Sainsburys both claim to have been the first to sell the avocado, in the 1960s. But evidence of them being eaten goes back, in Central America, to around 10,000BC. How it has survived so many centuries before man became a farmer is a puzzle. Fruits and vegetables are generally propagated by the animals who eat them excreting their pips and seeds. Have you considered the size of that avocado stone?
At more than 34% of the market, Mexico is still the main provider of the āhuacatl, a Nahuatl word that also means testicle. But it’s also grown further south, across the Caribbean, in California, and more recently in Israel and round the Mediterranean basin.
The first person to give it the name ‘avocado’ was the 17th century physician and naturalist, Hans Sloane, who referenced it in a 1696 index of Jamaican plants. But a Spanish conquistador, Fernández de Oviedo, is said to have been the first European to have actually eaten it. ‘A paste similar to butter,’ he said, ‘and of very good taste.’
While Mexicans ate them with great regularity, California farmers who had planted groves in the 1900s found it hard to popularise an unfamiliar vegetable with an unpronounceable name and reverted to ‘avocado.’ Sales remained modest, with an annual consumption per capita in 1989 of 0.5kg until the California Avocado Commission hired a PR firm in the 1990s to promote them. With the goal of benefitting from TVs top sofa-snack guzzling sports event, the Super Bowl, it came up with the Guacamole Bowl, getting NFL players to share their favourite guacamole recipes, even if they may not have eaten any before Hill & Knowlton encouraged them to do so.
US sales rocketed by almost 70%. Now, every Super Bowl Sunday, more than 45 million kilos of avocados are sold. During the year, Americans eat more than 3kg each. It was Gwyneth Paltrow who repositioned the avocado from couch potato dip to metrosexual breakfast, with her recipe in her 2013 ‘clean eating’ cookbook, ‘It’s All Good’, for avocado on toast - one of her less bonkers developments. In the UK, avocados have had the third largest sales increase of any grocery item.
Here is an excellent recipe for guacamole for any time of year. It comes from Central Mexico and the research of the doyenne of Mexican cuisine, Diana Kennedy.
- 4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander
- 1 to 2 serrano chilis, stemmed and finely chopped, depending on how much heat you like
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
- Sea salt
- 3 ripe avocados, halved and pitted
- 285g grape or cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
- Tortilla chips, to serve
In a bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the coriander, the chilies, onion, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mash the mix with the bottom of a dry tea cup until a rough paste forms, about one minute.
Scoop the avocado flesh into the bowl and coarsely mash with a potato masher or fork. Stir in the coriander paste and half the tomatoes until combined. Taste and season with salt to taste.
Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining coriander and tomatoes and serve with nachos or tortilla chips to dip.
This column written by Julia Watson originally appeared in the March 2021 edition of The Bugle.