Avid for Avocado

Between ruby red stacks of tomatoes, and sunny bunches of bananas, sits an altogether humbler fruit – the avocado. Humble it may be, with its wrinkled skin in various dark shades of green and purple, but supermarket fruit aisles would be incomplete without mounds of this impressively popular fruit.

The draw of the avocado is so strong, that even when consumers fail to find one at peak ripeness – which happens all too often – rock hard fruits are taken home to continue ripening on kitchen counters.

Once ripe, the fruit’s creamy and rich flesh lends itself to everything from smoothies and salad toppers, to sushi fillings and butter substitutes, while nutrients housed in its buttery flesh make the fruit a natural powerhouse.

While Mexico generally produces the highest quantities of the fruit, avocado is grown worldwide, including here in Cayman.

Locally grown

Locally grown avocado has increasingly made itself at home on Cayman’s supermarket shelves and market stalls, with the local growing season generally running between May and August.

Two local producers are Agriculture Minister and restauranteur Kurt Tibbetts, who enjoys success growing avocados and other fruits on five acres of farmland in Northward, and Hamlin Stephenson, owner of Hamlin’s Farm in Lower Valley and recipient of the Minister’s Award for Most Outstanding Farmer of the Year in 2015.

Hamlin says Cayman is an easy locale in which to grow the fruit, and when his crop is in season he sells at the Market at the Cricket Grounds as well as at the Farmers and Artisans Market at Camana Bay. Kurt also sells his produce, as well as using it at home and in his Old Man Bay restaurant Kurt’s Korner.

A large number of mainstream varieties are grown here, including Russell, Simmonds, Monroe, Catalina, Beta, Miguel, Pollock, and Marcus Pumpkin as well as several local types.

Taste varies by variety. Hamlin particularly enjoys the Simmonds and Catalina varieties, describing them as “rich and buttery.”
“Our local avocado varieties, to me, are the best,” Kurt says. “The taste is richer and not watery or wet.”

Selecting

For consumers choosing avocados from supermarkets or local market stalls, Hamlin has some simple advice on how to take home the best produce.

“If you are a novice to avocado it is best to pick one that is ripe. The skin of the avocado should still be green while the fruit itself will be pliable,” he says. “For the purple skinned avocado it is the same; the skin will be purple and the fruit pliable. If the skin is black the fruit has spoiled.”

For instances when only unripe avocados adorn shelves or stalls, there is also a tip to speed up the ripening process. Simply put the unripe avocado in a paper bag with either a banana or apple. The captured ethylene gas released by these fruits speeds up the avocados ripening process.

Growing your own

For those who wish to attempt to grow their own avocado tree, the process is relatively easy. Just pop a seed in a pot filled with soil until the young tree is large enough to transplant into the ground.

The difficulty with avocado growing, however, stems from the fact that not all home-grown trees will produce fruit, and those that do may take many years to do so, and may not even produce the same variety as the seed which was planted.

To improve the chances and efficiency, there is some extra work involved in the form of grafting, which involves joining a scion taken from a fruiting tree, onto a T-shaped cut on the trunk of the newly grown tree.

“Grafting is a skill and technique in its own right, and it is very hard to describe,” says Hamlin. “It is done to ensure the continuation of a variety of avocado. Just because we plant a seed of a certain variety there is no guarantee that is the variety that will grow from that seed.”

Kurt adds: “There are several types of grafting; split grafting or air layering, or what the older folks call circumposing. Any method can be successful, but the most common one for the avocado is split grafting. These are not extremely difficult procedures, but if you don’t know how, it is best to get someone to take you through the paces slowly.”

An altogether easier option is to rely on the delicious crop from local providers such as Hamlin and Kurt.

Cutting and storing

The best way to cut an avocado is by using a sharp knife, slicing lengthwise until the knife makes contact with the pit. Rotate the avocado around the knife until it is cut all the way around. You can then twist the two halves to separate. Remove the pit by spearing with the knife and, depending on your desired use, either scoop the flesh out with a spoon, or cut long wedges or smaller squares from the flesh.

Once you cut an avocado in half, the exposed flesh turns brown quickly. To slow down this discoloration, brush the exposed flesh with lemon juice, or place half the avocado, pit in, on top of chopped red onion in a sealed container.

Using

Whether you grow your own avocado, or buy local or international fruits, you are spoilt for choice as to how to use it. From guacamole and avocado eggs, to breakfast burrito bowls and the presently on-trend avocado toast, the avocado pear can be put on top of nearly everything.