Learning to feed yourself can be one of the most terrifying things. Am I about to give myself food poisoning? If I eat this too often will I end up with scurvy? How can I get the most nutritional bang for my buck? Why does this still taste like ass?
With Ode to My Pantry, learn to navigate a grocery store without having a meltdown in aisle three. Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a queer to cook and stave off malnutrition for another semester.
Avocados are the L Word of my pantry. I say this because although my heart has a section reserved solely for them, my mind explodes if I think about them too much. They contain as much fat as a steak? They don’t ripen on the tree? They’re a fruit? How the fuck does that make sense? It doesn’t! But much like anything by Ilene Chaiken, I just blindly love them anyways.
I try to eat fruits and vegetables seasonally, but even then it’s a gamble. If you live far from the growing region, you’re either paying an arm and a leg for proper transport or resigning yourself to eat bruised mush. Luckily, avocados are my trump card over seasonality and shipability. Avocados have the odd little habit of refusing to ripen on the tree, so growers just store them on the branch until they’re ready to ship. This means that every season is avocado season, so their prices will stay more or less stable throughout the year. But more importantly, those growers can ship out the fruit when they as hard and hardy as rocks.
You can accelerate the trip to guacamole town by letting your underripe specimens feed off the life-force from other fruits. Avocados, bananas, apples and other climacteric fruits naturally produce ethylene as a ripening agent. This gas causes cell walls to soften, colours to morph, flavours to develop and starches to convert to sugar. Magic comes into play because climacteric fruits don’t need to produce ethylene themselves, they can actually get ripe just from exposure! This chemical trickery is used to ensure that green-harvested tomatoes are bright red when they hit your supermarket’s shelves in February. But unlike those styrofoam flavoured tomatoes, avocados will taste great whether they’re ripened by you or the farmer.
Simply pop an avocado into a brown paper bag (or other breathable material) with a ripe banana and behold. After a few days it’ll transform from an egg-shaped rock into a melting mass. Once it’s edible, throw it into your crisper drawer and you’ll have perfectly ripe avocados for the rest of the week. Just be wary of squirreling away your avocados too early. Since they come from a warm climate, any frosty temperatures will irreparably damage their internal machinery. So even if you valiantly rescue your avocado from its frigid crypt, it’ll remain a green rock until the end of time.
So how do you know if you have a ripe avocado or an avocado-shaped ball of mold? With its slow softening habits, propensity to brown and sensitivity to cold, choosing a fruit and cutting it open quickly escalates into Produce Roulette. If you compromise its armor too early you’re fucked. Do you leave it on the counter, praying it doesn’t become a solid brick of brown or refrigerate it, knowing it’ll never fulfill it’s guacamole destiny? When you play the game right, you can still walk away a winner without blowing all of your chips on packages of Already Ripe avocados.
Step 1. The Squeeze.
The shift from hard to delicious happens in the blink of an eye. For an avocado to fully ripen, the cell walls’ pectin needs to degrade and swell with water. Unlike armor-covered melons that leave you guessing, you can monitor the fruit’s textural evolution with gently squeezing. Ripening will start at the round end and move towards the narrow tip. So if the tip and the end give to gentle pressure, you’re almost there.
Step 2. The Peek.
If your fruit has passed step one, time to make sure you haven’t overshot your target. See that stem? Pop it off to gaze deep into your avocado’s belly button. This way you can look directly under the hood without compromising the entire fruit. Light green? You’re good to go! Olive green with brown speckles? It’s going to be mushy. Brown or fuzzy? Sorry, you lost this bet. Just note that this porthole trick only works once. After a day, polyphenol oxidase will kick in and you’ll be seeing brown no matter what.
If you played peekaboo properly you’ll be left with a suitably squishy specimen. You can go the typical guacamole, sandwich or salad route, but you might want to think outside the bowl. With their high fiber content, they’re perfect for thickening soups or mimicking cream sauces. Avocados typically aren’t cooked since heat supposedly brings out a sulfury, eggy quality, but a quick dip in the deep fryer shouldn’t bring up too many sinister flavours. Given that avocados are already delicious lumps of lard, it seems like culinary overkill to deep fry them. But if Paula Deen has no qualms deep frying butter, you can follow suit while pretending you’re getting your dose of potassium, vitamin K, folate, B vitamins and vitamin C.
When you’ve grown up categorizing a certain food as savory, it’s hard to imagine reaching for the sugar instead of the salt. So every time my mom would eat sweetened avocados as dessert, I simply cocked my eyebrow, wrinkled my nose and continued reaching for the seasoning salt. As it turns out, she and most of Asia and Brazil were ahead of the curve.
Simply blend your avocado, condensed milk, ice and milk into a shake and you’ll never notice the missing ice cream. (Bonus points if you throw in some tapioca pearls.) With its high fat content and delicate flavour, you can sub avocados in for high-fat dairy in brownies, cake frosting and cream pies too!
What ways have you unlocked avocados’ mysteries?