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SEASONAL PANTRY

The mysterious origin of the Hass avocado

Published: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 1, 2013 at 2:41 p.m.

Avocados seem particularly good this year, rich, creamy, velvety and abundant.

I'm talking about Hass avocados, which account for somewhere around 85 percent of avocados cultivated in California. They seem to be everywhere right now.

The Hass avocado, one of about 600 varieties, was discovered almost by fluke.

By the 1920s, California was shipping avocados around the world. Nineteen varieties were grown in the state, though the Fuerte, with its smooth, bright green skin, dominated.

Rudolph Hass, who had worked for the post office, planted a two-acre avocado orchard with seedlings from a nursery in Whittier. The seedlings grew into trees, the avocados were harvested and sold and the years passed. At some point, his children noticed that out of dozens of trees, one produced different fruit, with dark, nubbly skin. The flesh of avocados from this tree was extraordinary, creamier and more delicious than the fruit of all the other trees.

By 1935, the kids had gotten their father to pay attention to this single tree. That year, Rudolph Hass patented it and entered into a partnership with the original nurseryman to share income from sales of the tree's offspring.

Today, the millions of Hass avocados consumed each year are all descendants of that lone mother tree, whose ancestry has never been discovered.

The Hass orchard long ago gave way to housing developments but the tree, marked by a modest bronze plaque, thrived in the front yard of a small home on West Road in La Habra Heights until 2002, when it developed root rot and died.

As delicious as the Hass avocado is, there are other varieties of avocado that warrant attention. In Hawaii, where there are about 200 varieties of avocado trees, one stands out. The Kahalu'u avocado, casually known as the butter avocado, is so voluptuous that it can spoil you for any other type, at least for a while. It is so tender that it practically mashes itself into guacamole as you peel it.

The butter avocado is one of the reasons to stay in a cottage with a kitchen instead of a hotel when you visit Hawaii.

It is not available in California and you can't bring any home with you from Hawaii.

Nutritionists once warned us to stay away from avocados because of their high fat content, but that attitude has been turned on its head. Today, the avocado makes it onto every list of so-called “superfoods,” foods that have anti-aging, cancer-fighting, anti-inflammatory, longevity-promoting qualities. Avocados are said to regulate blood sugar, prevent arthritis and promote the health of our hearts. They contain impressive amounts of carotenoid antioxidants, along with fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium, and Vitamins B5, B6, E and K.

When it comes to preparing avocados, I'm of the mind that less is usually more. I prefer dishes that highlight both the savory flavor and the texture of the avocado, without messing with it much. If I pair an avocado with something sweet, I like plenty of acid, too. I enjoy avocado with grapefruit, pomegranate and Meyer lemon but am not a fan of avocado with, say, mango, watermelon, chocolate, sugar or honey, combinations I have seen recently. I've not yet had an avocado milk shake, avocado ice cream or avocado cheese cake that I've enjoyed. Avocado is wonderful with plain yogurt and, if you like smoothies and such, try a savory version, with plain kefir, cilantro and serranos chiles.

For avocado recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

Arugula has been particularly good this year, too, as it is one of the crops that sweetens up when the weather is cold. If you don't like arugula, top the soup with a swirl of extra virgin olive oil and chopped cilantro leaves.

Chilled Avocado and Yogurt Soup with Arugula and Walnut Pesto

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 garlic cloves, crushed

— Kosher salt

— Large handful (about 2½ ounces) small-leafed arugula, chopped

— Small handful (about 1 ounce) Italian parsley leaves, chopped1/3cup chopped cilantro leaves, chopped

3 tablespoons walnut halves, light toasted and chopped

— Juice of 3 limes, plus more if needed

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 small shallot, peeled

1 small serrano, stemmed and seeded

3 ripe Hass avocados, flesh only (see Note below)

2 cups plain whole milk yogurt, preferably organic

— Black pepper in a mill

Put the garlic into a suribachi mortar, sprinkle with salt and use a wooden pestle to grind it until smooth.

Combine the chopped arugula, parsley and half the cilantro in a small bowl and toss together. Add the garlic, a small handful at a time, and pound a bit before adding another handful. Continue until all the arugula mixture has been incorporated. Add the walnuts and pound until they are reduced to small bits. You want the mixture chunky, not smooth. Stir in about a tablespoon of lime juice, taste-correct for salt and add the olive oil.

Cover and set aside.

Put the shallot, serrano, avocado, remaining cilantro leaves and remaining lime juice into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse several times and then operate continuously until the mixture forms a very smooth puree.

Transfer the avocado mixture to a large bowl or other container and whisk in the yogurt. Taste, correct for salt and acid and season with several turns of black pepper.

If the soup seems too thick, thin with a little water until you achieve your preferred texture.

Refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour.

To serve, ladle into soup plates, top with a generous spoonful of the arugula pesto and serve immediately.

Note: The best way to peel an avocado is to cut it in half lengthwise and then twist the two halves in opposite directions. Next, smack a sharp knife into the pit, twist the knife slightly and lift it out. Use a large thin soup spoon, inserted between the skin and flesh, to remove each half, which should come out easily in one piece.

This dish owes much to Eggs Benedict, though it is much lighter and more delicate. It is named for Rudolph Hass, father of the Hass avocado.

Eggs Rudolph

Makes 4 servings

— Creamy Lemon Citronette (recipe follows)

— Juice of 1 lemon

6 to 8 Romaine lettuce leaves, cut into thin crosswise slices

— Kosher salt

2 avocados, split lengthwise, pitted and peeled

4 pastured eggs

4 bacon slices, cooked until crisp, then drained and chopped

First, make the dressing and set it aside.

Fill a small saucepan two-thirds full with water, add a teaspoon of lemon juice and set over high heat.

While waiting for the water to boil, toss the lettuce with a little kosher salt and divide it among individual plates. Set half an avocado on top of the lettuce, drizzle lemon juice over the avocado and season with salt.

When the water boils, poach the eggs, 1 or 2 at a time, for 3 minutes and use a slotted spoon to remove each egg from the water. Gently shake off excess water and set an egg in the center of each avocado.

When all of the eggs have been poached, spoon dressing over each portion, top with bacon and serve immediately.

This recipe is from my newest book, “Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings,” just published by Harvard Common Press.

Creamy Lemon Citronette

Makes about 2/3 cup

1 small shallot, minced

1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

— Kosher salt

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon creme fraiche

1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives

— Black pepper in a mill

Put the shallot, garlic and lemon zest in a mixing bowl or small, wide-mouthed Mason jar, add the lemon juice and let sit for 15 to 20 minutes.

Season generously with salt, add the olive oil and either mix with a fork or small whisk or seal the jar and shake it vigorously. Add the creme fraiche and mix or shake again. Add the chives, season generously with black pepper, taste and correct for salt. Set aside until ready to use.

Michele Anna Jordan hosts “Mouthful” each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

You'll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com

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