Friday, August 28, 2009

Florida Avocados

I can't even tell you how much I hate Florida Avocados. I think they're an utter travesty. I really do. They're too big. They're mealy, watery and flavorless. They have nothing on Hass Avocados, which are pure heaven with their thirty percent fat content.

It really irritates me that I have to live in Florida and that I have decided to do this local eating thing here, in the place with the inferior avocados. I mean, it just figures doesn't it? Because avocados may well be my favorite food. I'm not kidding you. I could eat a Hass avocado every single day of my life. But they aren't from around here, those black, pebbly skinned wonders. Nope. I get the bright, green, shiny skinned Florida version. Typical to most things in South Florida, Florida avocados are all flash and no substance. They look big, voluptuous, glossy and emerald. They're much, much prettier than the dull, bumpy Hass version.

I've always thought that Florida avocados were like strippers. They look great on the outside. They've got the glitz and glam image, but inside they lack any real substance. They're absolutely tasteless. The Hass avocados though are littler, dark, rough on the outside. They don't look like much. They could be the frumpy librarians of the savory fruit world. Then you cut one open and you find it's miraculously full of depth. Rich and complex, buttery, the Hass is the kind of avocado you could marry.

I've said it before, regarding the whole issue of apples, that I am a spoiled brat. I'm used to having whatever I want, whenever I want to eat it no matter the cost to local farmers or the environment. I don't want to be a spoiled brat anymore. I need to try to give up Hass avocados and really try to love the Florida avocado. One of the most popular varieties of Florida avocado is the "Lula" which honestly, even sounds a bit exotic dancer-ish, though more in a cool, retro Burlesque show kind of way. Maybe I can learn to live with it.

My sister brought some Florida avocados over to dinner one night. I was horrified. I'd always seen them at the store and wondered who bought them. Apparently there are some saintly folk who actually prefer them. Many people like them because they're lower in fat and calories. I actually came across one marketing campaign where they had renamed the poor things "Slimcados" and were trying to get people to buy them like they were "Avocado Lite" or "Diet Avocado." I can't explain how much this annoyed me. It was really stupid.

My sister made a simple salsa with her Lula. It contained nothing more than avocado, pineapple, scotch bonnets, red onion, salt, pepper and lime juice. It was really good. She had let her avocado really ripen. It was quite soft and I noticed that this developed the flavor and helped the flesh to be less watery, which is what I had always found so distasteful about our local variety. It wasn't mealy either, something else I can't stand.

Maybe, I thought, I could do this. I'm trying to make the switch. I think the key is to buy the smallest Florida avocado you can find and let it get nice and ripe. They're in season now, so I'm really working on this. I think I can learn to love them.

Here is a good article in Cooking Light about avocados which mentions the Florida avocado, of course, last.

Here is a very informative site about growing your own avocado tree, which to me sounds like a great idea.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Pairi Mango

Remember ages ago when I went to the Mango Festival at Fairchild back in July, forever ago before I ran up North to plunder their local peaches and watermelons and pulled a massive disappearing act on you all? It's so long, you've probably forgotten. But my friend and I did go to the Mango Festival, which was really a lovely idea. In theory. The Mango Festival itself and the going to it, I mean.

I think I put off writing about it because, while I adore my friend and all time spent with her, I did not so much enjoy the Mango Festival for two main reasons. OK, three. First, it was so hot that day that we broiled alive. Second, it was too crowded, which made it about ten gazillion times hotter. I swear at once point I looked down and actually saw my skin bubbling. I even wore a linen sundress and a big straw hat that made me look like I was in disguise. To no avail though, because the heat was to a degree that made me want to fall on my knees and thank God for incarnating me after the invention of air conditioning. Last, I did not love the Mango Festival as much as I had wanted to love it because most of the mangoes being sold were not local, although in the festival's defense they were selling a lot of trees and therefore contributing to the creation of even more local mangoes. Maybe I was just crabby and indignant because I was in the early stages of heat stroke.

There were some highlights of the afternoon though. I enjoyed a lovely, if a bit too cloying, mango smoothie, but due to my heightened crabbiness, with each sweet sip all I could think about was how I needed a few squeezes of lime to pucker it up. The other highlight was the discovery of the Pairi Mango, which proved not so much delicious as wildly entertaining.

You see, the Pairi Mango is uniquely fragrant. It has a distinct perfume unlike any other mango.

I had hoped, in vain, to get my grubby hands on an Alphonso mango. If you haven't heard the legends and lore associated with the Alphonso, they are THE mango of India, which every immigrant from there will tell you is the finest mango in the entire world and virtually impossible to get outside of India. Then they will cry a little bit at the memory of how perfect those mangoes were. Last year someone, I have no idea who, but someone I wouldn't like, got the brilliant idea to spray the hell out of them with pesticides and God knows what else and ship them clear across the world to America. Indians rejoiced. Locavores winced. I heard that the Alphonsos were still good, but just not quite as good as they were when left to their natural ripening processes in India. But I also heard that some people were trying to grow them here and then I heard a rumor that there might be some to try at the Mango Festival.

There were, but they were for people who attended a special brunch and mango tasting, so I didn't get to have any. None were for sale. However, there were many many many Pairis for sale and no one was buying them.

The smell attracted me. Pairi mangoes smell like curry and I mean exactly like curry. One smell of a Pairi transports you straight to India. I inhaled and imagined myself swirled in a length of crimson sari. I began to have fantasies involving Ashrams and peacocks, elephants and many armed deities. I had to have some of these spicy mangos.

On the way home the Pairis stunk up my car. By the time I got them in the house they had become even more fragrant and instantly stunk up the entire kitchen. Then I realized the smell had sweetened and now the Pairis smelled exactly like cardamom. I tested this by opening a jar of cardamom and comparing the mango with the spice. Exactly the same.

I let them ripen another day. The whole house smelled like Indian spices.

My sister came over.

"EWWWW," she declared, "What stinks?"

"These mangoes," I explained.

She took a sniff and grimaced.

My husband came home and had a similar reaction.

"The whole house reeks," he said.

It did. I asked my sister what she thought the mangoes smelled like.

"B.O.," she said.

"As in-"

"Body Odor, yes," she said.

My husband agreed. The mangoes had gone from curry to cardamom to straight up armpit in two days.

No one wanted to eat one and I had three. I cut open the smallest and tried it. It was not the best mango I have ever had and I am trying to be kind. One should always be kind and reverent when speaking of mangoes, but the Pairi was stringy and strange and very bitter. I feel terrible, but I didn't like it very much.

I did like making people smell it though. Over the next few days I made everyone smell the Pairi mangoes that remained. I asked them what they thought they smelled like.


"A locker room."


"A Chain Gang in Summer."

"A New York Taxi cab."

The answers never ceased to amuse me.

In the end, I couldn't give away the Pairi mangos. No one wanted to eat something that smelled like that.

"But people love stinky cheese," I'd argue.

I put the now over-ripe mangos out in the yard for the iguanas to eat. I looked out the window as one, bright green lizard seemed to tentatively sniff the fruits in the grass. It turned and seemed to look right at me with an incredulous expression, as if to say "Woman have you lost your mind? This stinks. I may have eaten your burgeoning radishes and decimated your cucumber and watermelon seedlings, but really, do I deserve THIS?"

And then it walked away, jumped off the dock into the Intracoastal and swam away in disgust.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Closed Until Fruit Ripens - Not Really!

When my family first moved to Florida in 1989, one of my favorite places to visit was Mack's Groves, which has now (sadly) been closed for a couple of years. There were two locations in Pompano on Federal Highway and Lauderdale by the Sea on A1A. I loved going there for oranges, Florida themed kitsch and coconut patties. Every summer though, they would close. The sign out front always read "Closed Until Fruit Ripens." They'd be back in business around Thanksgiving when the citrus fruits came back in season. I always looked forward to the day they reopened. Unfortunately, now they're gone for good.

Local food posts have been pretty scarce for me. I struggled to find things to write about and of course I totally cheated by going up North and raiding several farmstands on the Delmarva Peninsula. I couldn't help it. Local eating in Florida in the summer is little more than fish, coconuts, a few tropical fruits and I mean a very few and maybe some corn and hot peppers if you're lucky enough to find them in the expensive Whole Foods produce section. In other words - Summer is our Winter.

Even Robert is Here, the Homestead farmstand institution, is closed right now. There aren't even any mangoes left, but that's ok. I pretty much gorged myself on mangoes while they were in season and got sick of them. I couldn't believe it myself, but it's true. I actually got sick of mangoes. Give me a few months and I'll be craving them again, I'm sure.

But as we wait for the fruit to ripen again, and all the farmer's markets to return in October, which isn't really so long off at all, I'll still manage to find some local delicacies for you. I'm convinced that they're out there.

After all, the Florida avocadoes are in season now. That has to count for something.