The avocados have been wonderful all summer. That is until the past two weeks. And that’s strange, because late August and early September is supposed to be peak avocado season, and just about every avocado I’ve bought in the past two weeks has been bad. Either sour and black inside, or black on the outside but still hard and brittle on the inside. That usually means they’ve been frozen.
The normal test for ripeness is color, when the avocado turns either red or black it’s ready. You are supposed to press lightly on the surface to see if it gives, that works too but results in a bruise. And I hate bruised avocados.
Which is why I always buy green ones and ripen them at home. Once avocados are placed on display, they are subject to all kinds of ignorant, impatient people who paw, squeeze, and throw back avocados without regard to what their handling of the fruit will result in, mainly bruising.
If you’ve ever cut open an avocado to find hard little black spots near the skin surface while most of the meat is green and creamy, those are spots where the avocado was either dropped on or pressed on. Every time I see a store worker dump a bushel of avocados into a bin haphazardly I want to yell at them.
Ditto tomatoes. Same with customers who pick them up and throw them back.
I once watched a woman at the Union Square Greenmarket looking through tomatoes and she would pick one up, give it a hard squeeze, and then drop it back on to the pile. I moved on to the next vendor, and was surprised the guy at that stand didn’t say anything to the woman who was systematically ruining all of his tomatoes.
When I test for ripeness, of either a tomato or avocado I cradle it in my palm and give it a gentle squeeze, just enough to see if there is any give. This won’t damage the fruit.
I wish I could get a job patrolling the produce section of Whole Foods or Fairway to stop squeezing and dropping offenders. I would do it with great relish à la George Whipple in the old Charmin commercials.
There is another test for ripeness, and it’s pretty foolproof. Take the avocado in the palm of your hand and flick at the little nub on the end that was attached to the vine. If it comes off easily, the avocado is ripe. If it’s solid, or takes some effort the avocado’s not ready.
The color test doesn’t always work. I’ve seen very green avocados that were already soft and black ones that are still hard inside, but picking off the nub works 99% of the time.
In the middle of the summer I was getting avocados that were almost like soft butter inside. While that’s great if you want to spread it on a sandwich or a tortilla, it’s not so conducive to salads. You want it a little firmer for salads.
Soft is pretty good for guacamole, though. When I make guacamole, (and I make the best guacamole) I buy my avocados green a week ahead of time to make sure they are all ripe at the same time. As soon as the nub falls off, I put the avocado in the fridge, and by the time preparation day comes I get a perfectly green guacamole. I always add a little lime juice to it, the lime juice helps to keep it from browning too fast. A dash of mayo gives it a little zest and helps with the color too. Yum.
When I was a kid my mom always used the bigger bright green avocados. They don’t have as much flavor as the Haas avocados, but they would be OK for guacamole. I use the Haas exclusively now. I’m spoiled.
I guess you can’t stop the stores or the transport people from freezing avocados; after all, the avocados are grown either in California or Florida, if not further south, and are trucked here. I guess your best bet is to find Florida avocados, since that’s closest to New York and are probably not frozen fro transport.
I remember watching at Trader Joe’s one day as they dumped a whole box of avocados into the bins, and the avocados were all sweating. A sure sign they’d been frozen. But I guess that would cut down on the bruising, wouldn’t it?