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Avocados


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A s we approach Superbowl Sunday, another polar vortex has descended upon the region with some ridiculously low temperatures and wind chills. I suspect that some of you are living in what appears to be ice palaces, as we enter the shortest month of the year. A reader of last week’s column about deicing salt passed on a great suggestion of another product that will improve traction. The product is sold under several brand names in auto supply stores, but I recall that we called it “Speedy dry” when I worked in a gas station in Catskill many years ago. Like kitty litter, it is made from calcined clay and is probably harmless to plants. It is used in the auto repair industry to absorb oil spills and works very well in that regard. It may cost a bit less than kitty litter depending on where you buy it. I saw it for about 35 cents a pound at my local auto supply store.

This weekend I am thinking about an interesting fruit, a single seeded berry actually, that is the avocado. Of course this fruit is the main ingredient in a tasty snack called “Guacamole.” If you are hosting or attending a big football game watching party, I highly recommend this tasty alternative to many snacks, such as most cheese dips or any dip containing mayonnaise. Guacamole is made from mashed ripe avocados mixed with any of several different ingredients such as onion, tomatoes, lime or lemon juice, cilantro (my favorite), jalapeño or cayenne pepper. The resulting dip or spread is relatively high in calories, at about 234 per cup, (roughly one whole avocado) and more than 80% of those calories are derived from fat, but the fat is unsaturated and considered quite healthy. Avocados are considered a very heart healthy food in general. Two medium size fried chicken wings with the skin on contain about the same number of calories as a whole cup of guacamole, but lack most of the other healthy stuff found in the fruit. Chicken fat, or the oil used to fry the wings is also high in saturated fat. “Alligator pears” as Avocados are sometimes called, also contain at least 20 different vitamins and minerals. Botanically known as Persea americana, in the Laurel family, Avocados are native to south central Mexico but are now widely cultivated in most sub-tropical regions all around the world. Mexico is the world’s largest producer with about 400,000 acres yielding 1.5 million pounds a year. Southern California has about 60,000 acres, (92% in San Diego County) and I was surprised to learn that it is the official fruit of California. At least a half dozen different cultivars are commercially grown, with fruit shaped like small pears to oval shape and large, almost round fruit, the size of a grapefruit. The cultivar “Hass,” named after the man who patented it back in the 1930’s, now accounts for 80% of all production. His single, original tree, from which all others are derived, died in 2002. This is the variety most of us see in our local supermarkets. The fruit will mature on the tree but is picked when still hard and green and allowed to ripen in transport or at the market. If you need a ripe avocado in a hurry, but yours are still green, place it in a sealed plastic bag with a ripe banana or apple. These fruit emit ethylene gas which speeds up the ripening process dramatically.

I am fortunate to have a friend here in Florida (Willie) who grows a local variety, commonly called the Florida avocado. They are much milder tasting then “Hass” and twice as large, with green skin, not black after ripening. The trees Willie has growing are pretty large, at least 50 feet tall and just as wide and spreading. Like coconuts, this is not a fruit you would want to fall and hit you on the head! The trees are majestic and beautiful to look at and they produce fruit almost all year around.

Sadly, Willie has lost many of his avocado trees to a deadly fungal disease called “Laurel wilt” which is spread by insects called ambrosia beetles. There are pesticides recommended to kill the beetles and suppress the disease, but Willy uses no pesticides in his grove. Consequently, he has also lost most of his grapefruit and at least half of his other citrus to another deadly disease called “Greening.”

So this Sunday as you enjoy the game and the commercials, snack healthy on a tasty American fruit!

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