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FRESH and Festive: Ever Heard of an Alligator Pear?

Did you know that an avocado is also known as an alligator pear? Although that name makes a lot of sense due to its shape and skin, it is probably a good thing that “avocado” has become the common name of this delicious and nutritious fruit.

California produces about 90 percent of our nation’s avocados, consisting of seven commercially grown varieties. The Hass variety accounts for almost 95 percent of the total crop volume. These avocados are arguably the most recognized type and my favorite, by far, for their creamy texture and nutty flavor.

Avocados do not ripen on the tree; they ripen or “soften” after they have been harvested. When you are purchasing avocados, push on the skin gently to determine ripeness. If you are looking for one to slice or mash within the next day or so, be sure that the pressure of your palm causes the skin to yield slighty or produces a small dent. If a large dent results, the avocado is more than likely overripe. Unripe, firm or green fruit can take four to five days to ripen at room temperature. If you are purchasing some for a recipe you want to create a few days out, just be careful to watch the fruit to make sure the temperature in your kitchen does not cause them to ripen too quickly. If they begin to yield to gentle pressure, place them in the refrigerator to slow the ripening process. If you want them to ripen more rapidly, place them in a brown paper bag with an apple or banana. The plant hormone ethylene, which occurs naturally in fruits like apples and bananas, triggers the ripening process.

There are many schools of thought on how to peel, cut and remove the pit from an avocado. I find the easiest method to be to cut the avocado in half lengthwise and twist the halves in opposite directions to separate. I remove the pit with a teaspoon but have friends and relatives that had rather stab the pit with a small knife and pry it out. I guess if you need to get out some pent up aggression, it might be a good thing to try! Once the pit is out, I hold the avocado half with a kitchen towel, cut side up, and use a small knife to score the flesh. Then I simply scoop out the chunks with a spoon, getting as close to the rind as possible.

Aside from being the star ingredient in guacamole, avocados are delicious on sandwiches, burgers, and salads. Their creamy texture makes them easy to mash up and use as an alternative to spreads like mayonnaise or butter. And the best part is that avocados are healthy! One-fifth of a medium avocado (1 oz.) has 50 calories and contributes nearly 20 vitamins and minerals to one’s diet.

So now you have the “fresh” part of my “fresh and festive” blog. As for the festive part, well, I tend to consider avocadoes as a good party ingredient. When avocados are on the menu, there are always lots of smiles and good times to go with them!