At a recent chefs convention I had the chance to visit an avocado grove just outside of San Diego. Mike Sanders and Chris Ambuul are the owners of the grove. I always find after visiting the source, my appreciation for all the effort it takes to grow almost anything increases. The Haas avocado is a true California native, although it is grown in other parts of the world. All trees are the kin of one tree founded by Southern California mail carrier and amateur horticulturist, Rudolph Haas. We actually have his kids to thank because Rudolph bought three trees, and after a while thought one tree wasn’t doing as well and was ready to pull it out. His kids said, “Dad, have you tried the fruit from that tree? It’s delicious,” and the Haas avocado was born.
I really didn’t know much about avocados except that they grow on trees. Like most crops, avocado growing has its challenges. The first thing I learned was an avocado tree carries this and next year’s harvest on it (see picture: large avocado = this year, small green avocado = next year). An avocado will not fully ripen on the tree. So, for the most part, an avocado on the tree in late May if left on the tree until September will be relatively the same. To harvest, pickers have to climb a 20-foot ladder (see picture) with a bag that will eventually hold 40 pounds of avocados (see picture), holding a long picking pole to get those hard-to-reach avocados.
Once Mike and Chris harvest them, the avocados go to a packing house. The first thing they go through at the packing house is a sorting process. Each avocado gets its picture taken – 11 color and 11 infrared shots. This is to grade them and happens at a rate of about 3500 avocados per minute (see pictures). Some of these are packed and shipped and some are ripened to customer-specific requirements in ripening rooms. The packing house we visited was spotless, and the whole operation was fast and extremely considerate of the delicateness of the fruit.
So how do you know if an avocado is ripe? Hold the avocado in the palm of your hand and gently squeeze; a ripe avocado will be firm yet will yield to light pressure. To ripen, place them in a sealed paper bag at room temperature. They usually ripen in 2 – 5 days. To speed this up, add a banana or apple to the bag, which give off ethylene gas and helps to ripen the avocado. The more apples or bananas you use, the faster the avocado will ripen.
I hope this helps you enjoy more avocados in guacamole, salads, sliced on sandwiches or just by the spoonful, which my daughter did just yesterday. Avocados add a delicious and unique flavor to many foods and are nutritionally good for you too.