Avocado the all-American fruit

  • Many fruits are found in local markets but by far the avocado is the favorite. Used in salads, soups, dips and even desserts, the fruit can be a complete meal with healthy fats as well. (Courtesy photo/Voltaire Moise)

Avocados have become the all American fruit now enjoyed throughout the mainland. It is likely Persea americana, originated in South Central Mexico but with a long history of cultivation in South and Central America, beginning as early as 5000 BC.

In Colombia and Peru production is the highest thus, along with coffee, allows farmers to have an alternative to growing coca leaf. Not only is it popular in the Americas, you may find them throughout warm regions of Asia, Australia and Africa as well.

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Avocado trees are ideally suited for Kona’s winter dry and summer wet weather as well as our well drained soils. However, they do well in wetter locations as long as the soil is not soggy or poorly drained.

Fat has a bad reputation in today’s health oriented society, but fats are essential to our well being. It’s just that some fats are better than others. Avocado fruit are among the most healthy sources.

No Hawaiian garden is complete without an avocado tree for shade and fruit. It is unusual in having its stored food chiefly in the form of fat and protein instead of sugar as in nearly all other fruits. The fruit is very high in vitamins and minerals. It is especially high in phosphorous, Vitamin A, riboflavin and niacin. The fat contains no cholesterol.

The avocado is a native American fruit that was growing wild from Southern Mexico to Ecuador and the West Indies at the time of Columbus’ arrival. Just when it was introduced into Hawaii, no one really knows, but it has naturalized and may be commonly found where conditions are favorable.

Avocados are now found on the markets all over the country at all times of the year. The major Florida crop comes on the market from June to February and the California crop from January to June. Hawaii has fruit all year round.

The avocado is borne on large evergreen trees with large, somewhat leathery leaves. This tree is tolerant of a wide range of soil types, but it must be provided with good drainage. Flowers are produced in late winter or spring, and the fruit matures in anywhere from six to 18 months, depending on location and variety. The avocado may be left on the tree for some weeks after it first matures with comparatively little dropping.

The avocado is a little strange when it comes to sex and fertilization. For example, the flower opens and closes twice.

At its first opening, every flower behaves as if it were a female flower only, able to be pollinated but not able to shed pollen. Then it closes for 12 to 24 hours, and when it opens again it is essentially a male flower, shedding pollen but usually no longer in condition to be pollinated. Furthermore, all of the flowers on a tree open and close almost at the same time and all the trees of a given variety behave just alike, and their flowers open or close together. This makes interplanting of two or three varieties a very important practice.

Even after more than 100 years of culture in Hawaii, there is no one variety or set of varieties that is wholly satisfactory. Each has its faults and advantages. Sharwil, yamagata, murashige, ohata, and Kahaluu are local favorites.

If you are in a hurry, avoid seedlings and grow grafted trees. Seedlings grow quite tall and may take seven to 12 years to bear fruit and then you may not get good quality fruit. Grafted trees are carried at some nurseries. Grafted trees, begin to bear in two years and are not as tall.

Avocados may be planted successfully at any season of the year. Frequent irrigations are necessary though, until the tree is established. Remember that avocado trees do not like saline water or soils. Choose a rich, well drained soil. Strong winds will cause leaves to burn or shed. If your soil is poor, mix in peat moss and well rotted manure to improve it. Shading and wind protection of newly planted trees is important to give them a good start. Avoid planting avocados near the ocean exposed to winds and salinity.

Avocados are heavy feeders. The fertilizer should carry a high percentage of nitrogen with a good portion derived from organic sources. Good results are obtained under widely varying treatments. Animal and poultry manures are very beneficial to the avocado as they add humus and bacteria to the soil besides being valuable as a fertilizer. Be careful not to over-fertilize or you may burn roots and leaves.

Newly planted trees should be fertilized at planting time with a 1-1-1 ratio fertilizer that has at least 30 percent of its nitrogen derived from natural organics. Fertilize according to label directions.

Like most other fruits, you are bound to get bumper crops. Finding ways to incorporate this nutritious fruit into your family’s diet can be a chore.

Although most commonly associated as a salad fruit, the avocado can also be used in soup, as a sandwich spread or dip, and in desserts.

Because of its rich, butter-like flavor, the avocado combines well with vinegar or lemon juice and with acid fruits and vegetables, such as pineapple, oranges, grapefruit and tomatoes. A contrast in texture, such as celery, carrots, pepper and watercress, also make appetizing combinations.

There are a number of molded avocado salad recipes available. These molded salads, using plain lime or lemon flavored gelatin, include fruit combinations, fish or chicken meat, or can be made with cottage cheese or creamed cheese.

A very easy but filling luncheon main dish can be prepared by using half an avocado per person, and stuffing it with crab meat, chicken, tuna or shrimp salad. The salad, used as the stuffing, should include a crunchy vegetable such as cabbage, celery or green pepper. Strips of red pimento will add the proper accent to the stuffed avocado salad.

Avocado tends to darken on standing and to prevent this from happening after cutting, sprinkle with lemon juice or pineapple juice. If using only half an avocado, save the unused portion by keeping it unpeeled, with the seed still embedded in it, and wrap tightly in plastic or foil wrap and store in the refrigerator.

The avocado pulp, that is easily prepared in a blender, freezes well, if pineapple or lemon juice is added while being pureed. This pulp can be used in making a delicious bread or cake, by following a banana bread or cake recipe.

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The pulp can also be used to prepare a chilled summer soup that calls for two cups of condensed cream of chicken soup that has been heated to a smooth consistency and chilled. One half cup of pureed avocado, one half cup of cold milk and a dash of white pepper complete the soup. Stay healthy by including high quality local fruits like avocados in your diet.

An additional use is in the beauty business. Avocado facials, for hair and maybe even avocado baths if you can’t eat all you’ve grown!

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