If it were not for avocados, I would be malnourished.
An avocado a day, maybe a mere half, is not an unremarkable craving. Except when they’re selling for $2.59 each, a price I refused to pay at a store in Davis last month.
It’s too awful to imagine what an avocado will cost if the president slams a 20 percent tariff on Mexican imports to pay for his wall. But in the meantime, what a difference three weeks makes.
As if by magic, store bins are tumbling with smallish avocados, now as cheap as 3 for $1, or 50 cents each, if you’re willing to pay.
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This is no coincidence. The Super Bowl and the fruit first paired up in the late 1970s in a California campaign to promote our state’s burgeoning dark-skinned Hass avocado. It happened again in 1990 when the California avocado industry, aided by the spoils of NAFTA, pushed to outfit our game-day buffets with guacamole.
Today, Super Bowl Sunday, Americans will partake of nearly 105 million pounds of avocados for the game’s requisite dip. California avocados will be at the party, but there aren’t enough. The California Avocado Commission’s website says: “Sure, you can get an avocado 365 days a year, but you can only get a California avocado for a few delicious months.”
Except that the Super Bowl’s early February date falls outside the California Hass season: March to October. And California’s lesser-known varieties – Pinkerton, Anaheim, and one type our midtown retinue of swine-pushing chefs would love, the Bacon – have scant chance of being tapped for the big game in the guacamole-eating town of Houston.
To the rescue: Hass avocados from Mexico. While not a holiday in Mexico, it may seems like one if you’re a grower in the avocado belt that runs through Michoacán, and your avocados are ready in winter. Look for a 30-second ad during the game brought to you by Avocados from Mexico, based in Dallas.
As recently as 2014, Mexico accounted for 60 percent of the avocados sold in the U.S. The Hass Avocado Board says that last week 42 million pounds of Mexican avocados were shipped to the U.S. compared to 1 million pounds from California.
So much for farm-to-fork to guacamole. It’s business as usual to source produce globally to keep stores stocked with everything from apples to avocados.
Here’s a quick ag lesson: It takes about eight months for small avocados to get ready for picking. They do not ripen on the tree. If they’re not picked, they just hang there getting bigger and bigger, as if the tree is their personal warehouse. It’s possible for a tree to have two crops on it at one time – last year’s big ones and the new crop’s small ones. The bigger they become, the more expensive they are.
A rush job from Mexico may be bringing in tons of avocados, but they’re on the small side. You’ll have to buy more of them for enough guacamole to go around. And you’ll need just the right ripeness to mash into a perfect dip.
In California, all avocados must pass a quality test for an adequate amount of oil before they can be sold. Hope that for today’s guacamole Mexico’s contribution will have the same buttery consistency of a California Hass.
When California and Mexico run short, there are Chilean avocados. Most produce brokers agree that avocados from Chile are low on oil, have an inferior taste and once opened reveal inedible black streaks running through the pulp.
If you bought hard avocados yesterday in hopes of making guacamole mashed, blendered or food-processored into smooth submission, it may be too late to ripen them for today’s Super Bowl batch.
As we addicts know, avocados come in various degrees of squeeze. Some arrive at the age of perfection ready to eat now and not a day later, others flabby or so hard they bounce. The avocados sold in green nets are like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get. I avoid them, preferring to exercise my right to choice of squeeze.
Restaurants that use avocados every day need daily deliveries ready to go. But shoppers can strategize. Buy a range of ripeness, from now to 10 days from now. Line them up on the counter in order of use, soft to hard. Or put hard ones in a paper bag so ethylene gas can ripen them in a day or two.
That’s the way it is, even if it’s just for dip. You are not in charge of the avocado. The avocado is in charge of you.
Elaine Corn is an award-winning cookbook author, newspaper food editor and occasional contributor to NPR affiliate Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. She can be contacted at ElaineCornInForum@gmail.com.