I was out walking Bounder, the little dog our son Justin brought home from a shelter a few years ago, and was almost back home when I spotted a McArthur Dairy milk crate brimming over with a harvest of 20 or more backyard grown avocados on the edge a neighbor’s lawn.
Perfectly imperfect, green, firm to the point of taut and warming in the sun waiting complete ripeness several days from now.
I was delighted to see my neighbors had left a recycled tin cup by the avocados in the milk crate with a little handwritten sign that said, “50 cents apiece please” trusting the universe in the process.
I pulled two dollars out of my jeans and stuffed them in the cup and picked out two heavy avocados. My math was not off. My mom taught me that tipping was a good habit. Plus that handwriting was of a child of seven years old or so.
I have been eating Florida avocados a long time now. I’ve even had trees grace the lawns of some of the places we’ve lived. There were times when I ordered avocados for my kitchens exclusively from California. The Haas avocado, as it is known by the variety that grows there, is very rich and wonderful.
Yet I increasingly feel the avocado growing in the trees from around us are more exciting to taste. It’s somehow more personal. I envision one day tasting them from yards all around us to see which family growers have the most delectable avocados of all! It would be like knowing the location of a special, secret fishing hole where the biggest spiny lobsters are hiding!
I cradled my avocados in the crook of my arm and Bounder led us back home.
I set the avocados down on the windowsill outside our kitchen to ripen and waited as one must in the world of Mother Nature.
When the avocado’s moment of readiness finally signaled me through her dimpled and darkening dress I slid a curved knife around the soft roundness taking care not to nick. My blade moved as if heated and moving through butter.
I set the large pit in a bowl, eased off a piece of the fruit, salted it just the barest amount and slid it in my mouth. At first, not much, the fat creaminess found readily in the Hass variety wasn’t there, but then I took the time to note its texture and understated sweetness. HEAVEN!!!
This called for some inspired cooking! So the following day, after considerable prep work, I made some braised beef shanks, Brazilian-style. The cooking there is vastly informed by Africa. But this is also the kind of globally loved low and slow cooking that really attracts me.
My homemade stock is mixed with the measured, released gelatinous luxury found only deep within the tough cuts of meat to create a ‘mouth feel’ that no two-minute steak ever could!
At the end of the braising, I add in coconut milk, which provides what most Western chefs find in heavy cream but like comparing avocados, different! I also add peanuts which provide texture and tradition. Then I add in avocado.
The softness is just the right touch to counter the bold meatiness of beef shanks. This meal has some of the same rich power and deliciousness of a great gumbo, another dish of African ancestry.
I took the stew out of the cauldron I’d made it in, ladled it into black, antique, terra cotta bowls and draped just-culled sections of perfectly ripe avocado on top.
I struck Florida gold and it was right in our own backyard.
This salsa is a refreshing but simple twist to the ubiquity of guacamole. The piquillo peppers are sold in jars and cans and are one of the most convenient and still tasty ways to enjoy roasted peppers. If you serve this on a “fattier” dish like pork chops you might want to amp up the acidity with more lime or the Spanish sherry wine vinegar.
Yield: 4 Cups
2 Tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon Spanish Sherry wine vinegar
1 clove minced garlic
½ teaspoon Tabasco
1/3 Cup piquillo peppers, diced small
½ Cup raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds, toasted and roughly chopped
1 large ripe firm Hass avocado, cut into 1/2-inch dice
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Combine the lime juice, vinegar garlic and Tabasco.
In a mixing bowl combine the piquillo peppers, pumpkin seeds and avocado. Toss gently with the dressing. Season with salt & pepper and serve.