Lately, I’m dreaming of avocados. Avocados smeared over freshly toasted sourdough bread, topped with sweet tomatoes and a light dusting of pink Himalayan salt. Avocados smashed with chopped garlic and finely ground chiles into guacamole that’s scooped into salty tortilla chips, enjoyed with a sharp crunch. Avocados sliced into a delicate salad of citrus and spring greens, drizzled with fruity olive oil and enjoyed with rosemary grilled chicken.
Just recently, I was in avocado heaven: an entire day spent with like-minded avocado lovers (a.k.a. food bloggers from San Diego and LA) as guests of the California Avocado Commission. We were treated to an entire day surrounded by avocados, first at the West Pak Avocado facility in Temecula, then as guests of Bill and Carol Steed at their avocado farm, Fairfield Farms, in Pauma Valley, where we dined on dish after dish highlighting the avocado, courtesy of Chef Adrian Halmagean, owner of Sorrel Bistro & Restaurant.
At West Pak we followed the path of the avocado, from the moment it reaches the facility, through various stages of sorting. Sorting is not a single-sweep process by any means. Instead, machines evaluate the fruit for color, ripeness and size. The fruit is distributed according to quality, and later hand sorted, where master sorters box avocados with a flash-of-hand quickness unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Along the way, growers can observe their produce via monitors placed throughout the process, just one of many elements of West Pak’s commitment to quality. Before the packaged avocados make their way to grocers and restaurants, they’re held in a giant refrigerator (imagine if Costco were chopped in half and became a fridge). After the chill of this holding site, I was only too happy to clamber onto the bus with the rest of the food bloggers and head out to Fairfield Farms, our next stop.
The owners of Fairfield Farms, Carol and Bill Steed, were kind enough to open their home and gorgeous yard to us. Their passion for organic farming is evident; they even cultivate honey bees to pollinate the avocado and citrus trees that cling to the mountains that surround their farm.
As for lunch…you know those feature stories you read in Sunset Magazine, filled with tables dappled with sunlight, colorful displays of food and happy eaters mingling about? Add in a fresh spring breeze and a camera around every neck, and that was the scene that afternoon.
Chef Adrian treated us to fresh salmon topped with an avocado and corn relish; a Southwestern quinoa salad with avocado and cilantro; fresh watermelon and avocados lightly dressed with balsamic vinegar; and a green salad with, of course, avocados. The surprise of the day was dessert: an avocado ice cream with a hint of vanilla, topped with fresh berries. Actually, scratch that: the surprise was not how amazing everything was, but the fact that the entire lunch was gluten free. Fabulous!
After lunch we piled into the Steeds’ farm wagon (remember that Sunset mag image?!) for a tour of their farm. The fresh scent of orange blossoms, the welcome shade of the avocado trees, even the distinct buzz of the honey bees inspired just a little bit of country in this city girl.
We’re right in the middle of the California Avocado growing season, which lasts March through September at its peak. Be sure to visit the California Avocado Commission’s recipe box for tons of creative ways to enjoy California Avocados. Here are a few tips for selecting, ripening and storing avocados, courtesy of the California Avocado Commission:
Selecting California Avocados
- When selecting an avocado, look for California avocados as this premium fruit is known for its creamy texture developed while growing under the best conditions possible.
- The easiest way to tell if a California avocado is ready for immediate use is to gently squeeze the fruit in the palm of your hand. Ripe, ready-to-eat fruit will yield to gentle pressure.
Ripening the Premium Fruit
- To ripen a California avocado, place the fruit in a paper bag with an apple for two to five days at room temperature (apples accelerate the process by giving off ethylene, a ripening agent). When the avocados yield to gentle pressure, they are ready to eat.
Storing California Avocados
- Ripe, uncut fruit can be stored in the refrigerator for two to three days.
- To store cut fruit, sprinkle with lemon juice, lime juice or white vinegar, and place in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.
- When you have an abundance of fresh, ripe avocados, consider freezing them. Pureed avocado freezes very well and can be used on sandwiches and in dips. Use frozen avocado puree within four to five months.
Source: California Avocado Commission
- 1 lb. lean ground beef or turkey
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- ½ tsp. garlic salt
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
- 1 head green leaf lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
- 1 head red leaf lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
- 1 (12-oz.) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 (6-oz.) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 (2.25-oz.) can sliced black olives, drained
- 3 green onions, thinly sliced
- 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- ⅓ cup chopped cilantro
- 2 ripe Fresh California Avocados, seeded, peeled and cubed
- 1 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese
- 1 cup crushed corn tortilla chips
- ¾ cup prepared Russian or French salad dressing
- Brown ground beef or turkey in a skillet over medium heat. Add cumin, garlic salt, and salt and pepper, to taste. Cook until the meat is no longer pink and then drain. Set aside to cool.
- In a large salad bowl, combine meat, lettuces, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, olives, green onions, tomatoes, cilantro and avocados. Gently mix together all ingredients and sprinkle cheese over the top.
- Just before serving, toss the salad mixture with the tortilla chips and salad dressing.