For a while, in the 1970s, one way of recognising the signs of middle-class bohemianism was to spot sad looking wood-like balls, pierced with cocktail sticks, sitting over glasses of water, waiting to sprout or to rot, on windowsills. These were the seeds or stones of avocados. It was a practice driven by hope rather than experience. Perhaps some of these stones did sprout roots, and then perhaps a leaf formed, but as plants the avocado had little future in the inclement British weather. Someone somewhere said that 'knowledge, is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to include it in a fruit salad'. The fruit of the avocado tree is a berry (botanically speaking, or rather Wikipedially speaking) made up of a single seed. Someone somewhere played a mean trick on those new to avocados by calling the ‘fruit’ of the tree an ‘avocado pear’ and then laughing when you didn’t treat it as a salad vegetable. Apparently when the shop Marks and Spencer first sold avocados in the early 1970s people would buy them and eat them with custard and then complain that they didn’t taste very nice.
Avocados in Britain are a hit-and-miss affair. As a regular purchaser of avocados I’d say that 30% of the ones I buy are inedible (either they’ve gone bad or are rock-hard); 60% are good-bad (they have bits of string in them, some black bits, but also some parts that look OK); 10% are perfect. That’s not good odds. But it means that when you’ve snagged a perfect one you feel as if you’ve hit the jackpot (avocadally speaking). We have a tea-towel with the legend ‘the Seven Stages of the Avocado’ written on it. Underneath the legend are seven identical pictures of avocados and underneath the pictures are the words: ‘not ripe, not ripe, not ripe, not ripe, not ripe, not ripe’, and then under the last avocado, simply ‘bad’. But buying an avocado is not just a gamble in trying to find an edible one, it is playing roulette with your taste. I love the 10% of perfect ones (I can’t think of any foods I love more), but the vast majority of avocados all have something that fills me with disgust, makes me shudder and nauseous and threatens to make me give up on them.
But I stick with the imported avocado. My favourite avocado dish is very simple. For some reason in this house we call it ‘the taste of California’. It was passed on to us by old friends. It is made up of a simple dressing (white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, good olive oil), some good oranges (skinned and sliced and pips removed), a couple of perfect avocados (peeled, de-stoned, and sliced) and a big clump of fresh coriander leaves (chopped). Just throw it all together, or arrange in a pattern. It is fresh tasting, and lovely. In the last months of my dad’s life the only thing he really enjoyed eating was avocados. Not ‘the taste of California’. Just cut in half, with some French dressing in hole where the stone was. Eaten with a tea spoon. Thanks avocados.