It ‘s a well-known fact of kitchen science that an acidic squeeze of lemon or lime juice helps keep the light color of apples, pears and peaches from turning brown. The same principle applies to the green of avocado pulp.

Yet certain fast-food emporiums make no apologies for the occasional drop or 10 of green food coloring to brighten avocado’s blackened flesh.

This writer, however, must confess. I did, in desperation recently, blend just a titch of green coloring into the guacamole for an otherwise colorful nacho platter. However, my guilt is lessened by the fact that avocado chicanery and misinformation aren’t new.

Consider the clever public relations man in the prudish 1920s who advised avocado growers to deny publicly the rumor that avocados were an aphrodisiac, thus boosting sales of the fruit.

While it’s easy to mispronounce the Aztec name for avocado, Ahuacacuahatl, the meaning, “testicle tree,” is readily recalled. But it’s not clear whether the Aztecs so named the fruit for its dubious aphrodisiacal qualities, or for the pear-shaped or round fruit which grows in pairs.

Speaking of names, why do the French call both a lawyer and an avocado avocat? Then there’s the misconception that its other name, alligator pear, originated in Florida, where the reptiles roam and where Henry Perrine, a horticulturalist, is credited with the first U.S. avocado planting in 1833. In fact, it was the Jamaicans who were responsible for the folk term, now shortened on the island to pear.

There are the many unenlightened who, when asked what an avocado is, call it a vegetable, believing anything green must be akin to broccoli and couldn’t possibly grow on a tree. Some think the black (Hass) avocado is just a rotten old green one, ignorant of the fact that 75 per cent of 640 million California avocados sold annually are Hass. Postman Rudolph Haas found the hybrid fruit growing on his avocado tree in his California backyard one spring, although how it got there remains a mystery. Patented in 1935, the newborn fruit is known today as the Hass. It’s giving its cousin, the green Fuerte (so named for its “strong” resistance to the California freeze of 1913) a run for supermarket dollars. The Hass’s tough, armadillo-like skin keeps the interior protected on the long haul north.

Even the discoverer of the avocado is cause for debate. Some say Hernando Cortez, a Spanish soldier, first found it in Mexico, while other authorities, including the eminent food historian Waverley Root, claim Martin Fernandez de Enciso discovered the avocado in Colombia. Somehow they do agree on the date of 1519.

It was known for years as midshipman’s butter, no doubt for its consumption on sailing vessels from England and Spain. As early as 1526, Oviedo, historian of the Spanish conquistadores, wrote: “In the centre of the fruit is a seed like a peeled chestnut, and between this and the rind is the part which is eaten, which is abundant, and is a paste similar to butter and of very good taste.” How about the high cholesterol myth? Virtually free of cholesterol, avocados contain 11 vitamins and five minerals including magnesium and phosphorus. Half an avocado has twice the amount of potassium found in a medium banana. Low in sodium and sugar, avocado’s fat content is mostly unsaturated, with a calorie content of 138 per avocado half, only 17 per average slice. So just because it tastes rich, creamy and buttery, doesn’t mean it’s fattening.

To bear fruit, avocados require the semi- tropical climes of the West Indies and the heat of Ecuador, Peru, Brazil or Mexico. There avocado trees grow to 60 feet and produce 200 to 300 avocados a season. They don’t ripen until picked, storing for up to six months on the tree.

Avocado supporters also know you don’t poke, squish or juggle avocados to test for ripeness. If it yields to a gentle touch in the palm of the hand – even better if the stone rattles inside – the avocado is ready to enjoy, sliced on tostadas, diced into omelets or tacos, skewered on fruit kebabs. Cut into halves or quarters, avocados make attractive boat-like containers that will impress your guests. If you’re bucking for a promotion, fill them with curried crabmeat, smoked salmon mousse, chicken and almond salad or scallop ceviche.

If the avocados in your supermarket feel like boulders, check the “reduced price, overripe” cart where packages of avocados are often sold at three for a dollar. These are fine for guacamole, pureed soups and avocado “ice”, a sherbet concoction best served in summertime to brave gourmands, prepared by cooks who still revere nouvelle cuisine.

To give Mother Nature a push with the ripening process, place unripened avocados in a brown paper bag and store at room temperature. They’ll ripen quickly (in a day or so), so don’t forget them or mistake the bag for Susie’s lunch. Then move them to a cool, airy place in the kitchen, or the refrigerator. Don’t store unripened avocados in the refrigerator, as this causes uneven ripening and flavor.

Vegetable peelers are not the modus operandi for non-stressful removal of avocado skins. A small, sharp pointed knife is best to peel off the skin. (The Hass variety’s firm black skin is especially co-operative.) Next cut lengthwise around the pit. Now for the fun part. Rotate the halves in opposite directions to separate. Watch as one half always stays attached to the pit. Remove the pit by gently sliding the tip of a spoon underneath and lifting out.

Avocado initiates should taste the fruit au naturel with just a sprinkling of salt or a squeeze of lemon juice. Those who say, “It doesn’t taste like anything” have missed out on the avocado’s subtle, nutty flavor and smooth, sensual texture.

AVOCADO FRITTATA DINNER

Busy people will love this fast, nutritious dish. Serve with a tossed salad or sliced tomatoes and crusty bread for a weekday supper.

  • 3 tbsps. butter or margarine
  • 2 small zucchini, scrubbed and diced (do not peel)
  • 6 medium mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil (or chives, tarragon or parsley)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 or 5 large eggs
  • Drop or two of water
  • 4 oz. grated Swiss or Monterey jack cheese

Melt butter in a large skillet. Add zucchini, mushrooms and green onions and saute three to four minutes or just until softened. Remove from heat. Arrange avocado slices on top attractively like the spokes of a wheel and sprinkle with basil, salt and pepper.

Beat eggs and water in a bowl until frothy. Pour over avocados in skillet, tilting pan if necessary to evenly coat. Cook over medium heat until bottom of egg is set. Lift edges of set portion and let uncooked egg flow under. Top with cheese. Cover pan and cook another three minutes or until cheese is melted. Omelet should still be moist. (If desired, place pan under broiler briefly just to melt and brown cheese.) Makes two or three main-course servings.

MEXICAN SANDWICH WITH AVOCADO

  • cup refried beans or shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 2 tbsps. sliced green onions
  • 1 tbsp. chopped green chilies (fresh or canned)
  • 1/4 cup bottled Mexican taco sauce
  • 4 Kavli Norwegian thick flatbread
  • 1 tbsp. softened butter
  • 4 Boston or Romaine lettuce leaves
  • 1 large tomato, sliced
  • 4 slices of ripe avocado
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Canned or freshly made refried beans, (prepared by soaking, boiling and frying pinto beans) add Mexican flavor, but if you prefer, substitute shredded sharp Cheddar cheese.

In a bowl, combine beans or cheese with onions, chopped chilies and sauce. (For a sauce with bite, use jalapeno chili peppers and a piquant taco sauce; or use a mild taco sauce if desired. Blend well.) To assemble sandwiches, spread flatbread with butter. Arrange lettuce leaf on top, then top with tomato slices, cheese or bean mixture and garnish with avocado slices. Serve at once. Good served with iced tea or ice-cold beer for a light mealt.

Makes four sandwiches. (When only using half an avocado, keep remainder unpeeled with pit still attached. Wrap in plastic wrap and keep in cool spot.) slices. Serve at once. Good served with iced tea or ice-cold beer for a light meal.