Avocados, native to central Mexico, meant much more to the ancient Aztecs than fruit to mash into guacamole, although they did enjoy their ahuacamolli, meaning avocado soup or sauce in Nahuatl.
In the Aztec language, avocado becomes ahuácatl, which translates to testicle. While etymonline.com says the name is a reference to its shape, the fruit was reportedly considered an aphrodisiac among ancient Aztec societies. According to some tales, the Aztecs even kept their vulnerable young women inside during the avocado growing season.
The avocado tree only grows in sub-tropical or tropical temperatures—not further north than Florida or California. California produces a whopping 90 percent of all cultivated avocados in the U.S.
Of all the many varieties of avocado, the Hass is the most popular. Rudolph Hass patented his mild tasting Fuerte (a Guatemalan/Mexican cross) in 1935. His “mother tree,” planted in 1926, died of root rot in 2002, according to the California Avocado Commission. The U.S. also imports millions of the fruit from Mexico, Peru and Chili, among other South American countries.
It is interesting to note that avocados reach their maturity on the tree, but like bananas, ripen off the tree. If you purchase a hard, firm one, allow it to ripen for a few days at room temperature. Avocados are ripe if they feel a little soft when gently squeezed. Here’s a little trick: when you open the avocado to use, squeeze some lemon juice on it right away to keep it from browning.
Avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fats, a kind called oleic acid, which actually helps improve fat levels in the body, in turn helping to control diabetes. They have proven helpful in preventing prostate cancer and breast cancer in women as well. Avocados provide more potassium than bananas, and they are high in vitamins A and E. In some studies, they have been proven to lower blood cholesterol levels.
Growing up, avocados were never a staple in my home, until my mother discovered them, and avocado and grapefruit sections, tossed in a bowl, became a staple meal. She was not as fond of guacamole as I am; however, she did slice avocados as a nice addition to all kinds of sandwiches, especially with fresh sprouts and cheese and a little salad dressing. She occasionally threw in a slice of meat when available.
Today, I find myself using avocado more and more in salads, sandwiches and dips. Still, my favorite way to enjoy this delicious, creamy fruit is split in half with some lemon juice and salt, eating it with a grapefruit spoon.
Avocado Raspberry Blue Cheese Salad
2 cups of fresh washed spinach
2 cups of mixed salad greens, mesclun
2 avocados, peeled and diced
1 cup fresh raspberries
½ cup pine nuts or walnuts, chopped
½ cup chunky blue cheese dressing
Combine the greens in a large bowl. Add the dressing and avocados, and toss lightly. Put the mixture on serving plates and top with raspberries and sprinkle with nuts. Serve with additional dressing on the side if desired.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.