The Food Almanac: Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Today is National Guacamole Day. The word translates from the language of the aboriginal Mexicans as "avocado sauce." They were eating it and avocados — a pure American food — long before the arrival of the Spanish. Although guacamole carries with it a sort of secret-recipe cachet, in fact it's easy to make. The key is in limiting the recipe to ingredients that the Aztecs would have used. The originators seem to have had it down cold. So we're talking about native American plants: avocados, chile peppers, cilantro, onions, and tomatoes. No dairy products. No black pepper. Two ingredients of non-Aztec origin that can pass are olive oil and lime juice, both used in small proportions and mainly to keep the concoction from spoiling too fast.
Guacamole is everywhere in restaurants, and much of it is even good. Only recently has the specter of premade guacamole reared its ugly head; avocados have until recently resisted all efforts at packaging. On the other hand, some restaurants now make their guacamole to order, sometimes right at the table. In Mexico, guacamole is almost always made to order, even in the tourist-pitched restaurants.
The only problem with guacamole is that good, ripe avocados are not always available. One must plan ahead, buying the avocados days before you'll serve them. If I can only get Florida avocados or stone-hard, underripe Hass avocados, the dish is off the table. Guacamole is a house specialty of mine. My guests expect to find it when they come over, even for Thanksgiving.
Avocado, Calif., is about 16 miles east of Fresno, on the alluvial plain of Kings River as it comes down out of the Sierra to water the vast farmlands of the Central Valley. Among them are large groves of avocado and citrus trees, just south of the townlet. The farms give way to rangeland right at Avocado. Avocado Lake is nearby. The nearest restaurant, however, is seven miles away: the Highway 180 Cafe in Sanger.
Hass avocado, n. — The most popular and best of the many varieties of avocado. The avocado tree is believed to have been developed in what is now Nicaragua. But it is known with absolute certainty that the Hass avocado came from a single tree grown by an amateur farmer in Los Angeles. All Hass avocado trees can trace their lineage to that tree, which was one of many in Rudolph Hass's grove in 1926. Its fruit was so much richer in flavor than any of the others that he patented it — the first tree to receive a patent. Grafts were taken from that tree and spread throughout all the avocado-growing areas of the world. The "mother tree" died in 2002, but every time you eat guacamole or an avocado salad, you're probably eating its genetic offspring. One more thing: It's "Hass," not "Haas."
Deft Dining Rule #523
Adding a layer of guacamole to a Mexican dish that already has three or more ingredients inside the tortilla cannot be guaranteed to make the dish better.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
When making guacamole, combine all the ingredients except the avocado first. Then scoop out the avocados and add them as quickly as possible. Mix only until the avocados are chunky, not a mash.
Annals of Food Writing
Prosper Montagne was born today in 1865. He was one of several brilliant French chefs who remade French cuisine in the early 1900s, and streamlined kitchen operations by organizing cooks better and simplifying presentations. But his finest legacy is the creation of Larousse Gastronomique, an encyclopedic treatise of French cookery, still being published in many languages. It's considered the last word on the subject.
Today's Worst Flavors
Today in 2003, a bunch of people were sickened with hepatitis after eating at a restaurant in Pittsburgh. Three died. Green onions proved to be the vector. Always wash your vegetables and your hands before eating. And never eat your hands . . . On the very same day, a man in Chennai, India, ate 200 live earthworms in just a little more than 20 seconds, beating the previous record of 94 worms in 30 seconds. That achievement was by an American named Hogg — no joke. C. Manoharan's feat was performed in front of official observers for Guinness. Earthworms are edible, but who would want to? Some years ago McDonald's was accused of substituting earthworms for beef. It disproved the charge by noting that earthworms are much more expensive than beef is.
Today is the birthday (1954) of Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State in the second Bush administration . . . Prince and the NPG had a number one hit on this date in 1991 with a song entitled "Cream" . . . Accordionist Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural of Buckwheat Zydeco was born today in 1947 . . . John Steuart Curry, who was a painter and maker of lithographs, was born today in 1897 . . . Harrison Salisbury, long-time New York Times journalist, was born today in 1908 . . . British wrestler Shirley "Big Daddy" Crabtree, who had a 62-inch chest, wrestled his way into the world today in 1930 . . . Leo Hendrik Baekeland was born today in 1863. He was the inventor of Bakelite, which is considered the first plastic.
Words to Eat By
"To be always intending to live a new life, but never find time to set about it — this is as if a man should put off eating and drinking from one day to another till he be starved and destroyed." — Sir Walter Scott.
"In the last analysis, a pickle is a cucumber with experience." — Cookbook author and wit Irena Chalmers. Today is alleged to be National Pickle Day.
Words to Drink By
"When I find someone I respect writing about an edgy, nervous wine that dithered in the glass, I cringe. When I hear someone I don't respect talking about an austere, unforgiving wine, I turn a bit austere and unforgiving myself. When I come across stuff like that and remember about the figs and bananas, I want to snigger uneasily. You can call a wine red, and dry, and strong, and pleasant. After that, watch out." — Kingsley Amis.