Produce Pete: All About Avocados

Local fruit and vegetable expert "Produce Pete" gets ready for Game Day.

avocado
Photo courtesy of Pexels

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a fan of football and Super Bowl Sunday. But growing up working at our family business, Napolitano’s Produce in Bergenfield, I was often toiling away at our store on Super Bowl Sunday, or else preparing that night to open the store on Monday morning.

However, I remember the first real Super Bowl I was interested in and made time for—Joe Namath and the Jets were playing Baltimore (and promising a win!) in Super Bowl III on January 12, 1969 and I knew it was a game I needed to see. My wife Bette and I had only been married for a couple of years and we were going to have people over to our house for a Super Bowl party. Just as the game was about to start and everything was set to go, my father called to say that Lassie, our dog at the store, was having puppies and was in distress. Bette and I went to the store and Lassie was indeed in trouble, so I put her right in my car and off to the vet we went. Needless to say, I ended up missing the entire game…but Lassie had six puppies and Joe kept his promise and led the Jets to a 16-to-7 win!

Due to the pandemic, this year has been a little non-traditional and Avocados from Mexico, a brand which has run Super Bowl ads annually since 2015, has elected to pass on that media opportunity during this year’s big game. But while the need for social distancing will likely curtail large Super Bowl LV parties at homes and sports bars, Hass avocados will no doubt still be on everyone’s menu because they’re the perfect game-time snack.

Packed with antioxidants, avocados are also rich in protein and dietary fiber and chock full of vitamins A, C and E. Photo by Susan Bloom

5 Fun Facts About Avocados

—Though people think that avocado sales peak on holidays like the Fourth of July or Cinco de Mayo, avocados actually experience their greatest demand on Super Bowl Sunday. In fact, in the four weeks leading up to the big game, the U.S. will import about 500 million pounds of avocados (nearly one billion individual avocados) from Mexico, the majority of which will end up in guacamole

—That consumption equates to enough guacamole to fill a football stadium from end zone to end zone, sideline to sideline at a depth of 62 feet!

—It comes as no surprise that guacamole is one of the top five snacks served at Super Bowl parties, along with potato chips, nuts, crackers and tortilla chips.

—People often think that avocados are caloric and fattening, but they’re actually high in good fat; they’re also packed with antioxidants, rich in protein and dietary fiber, and chock full of vitamins A, C and E, making them nutritional powerhouses.

All About Avocados

Avocados grow abundantly in warm climates and have been eaten for centuries by Native Americans. When ripe, an avocado has pale yellow to gold flesh and a delicate, sweet and nutty flavor. Above the equator, the fruit blooms between February and May but is harvested year-round because, unlike most fruits, an avocado doesn’t have to be picked at a certain peak time and can remain on the tree quite a while. Like pears, avocados ripen only after they’re picked, and the firm fruits ship well. Once a relatively expensive delicacy, avocados have steadily decreased in price as the fruit has become more widely available, although in recent years, heatwaves, droughts, water scarcity, and other challenging growing conditions have caused avocado prices to rise by over 100 percent.

The famous oval Hass avocado is a California variety that’s small-to-medium sized with a high oil content, a buttery taste, and a very pebbled skin that goes from dark green to purplish black. The Hass strain was discovered by a postman named Randolph Hass, who patented it in 1935. Though it was met with consumer resistance at first, it’s now the most popular variety in the U.S. and accounts for 80 percent of California’s crop.

Produce Pete demonstrates how to properly cut an avocado while anchorwoman Pat Battle looks on during recent segments on NBC Weekend Today in New York. Photo courtesy of Pete Napolitano/NBC

Selection and Storage

When selecting an avocado, choose fruit free of scars and wrinkles, and don’t squeeze the fruit or you’ll bruise it. Also examine the stem end—if the avocado is ripe, the stem will pull right out. The best strategy is to buy avocados when they’re still a bit green and firm and then ripen them at home.

To ripen, leave firm avocados out on the counter for a few days. Early in the season, avocados will take six to nine days to ripen, and then only five days later in the season, as fruit left longer on the tree has matured to the point that it will ripen quickly after picking. If you want to hasten the ripening process, put them in a paper bag or a drawer; some people think they ripen best wrapped in foil.

Don’t refrigerate avocados, as they can turn to mush in as little as a day under refrigeration. Avocado flesh exposed to the air will darken very quickly. While leaving the pit in can help prevent discoloration, the primary factor in preventing discoloration is keeping air away from the flesh, so wrap a cut avocado in plastic, refrigerate, and use it as soon as possible. Peeled and sliced avocados should be sprinkled with lemon or lime juice to slow discoloration, and the citric acid will also bring out the flavor.

To peel, cut the avocado lengthwise around the pit, then rotate the two halves in opposite directions. Gently put the tip of a spoon under the pit; if it comes out easily, the avocado is ripe. You can scoop the flesh out of the shell with a spoon, but in many cases the avocado will peel like a banana—just turn it over on the cut side and pull off the skin with your fingers.

Preparation

Avocados are great with a sprinkle of lemon or lime juice and salt. Mashed avocado is the primary ingredient in guacamole, but the fruit is also delicious served with slices of ripe red tomato or cut into slivers and added to tossed green salads. For a pretty salad plate, cut avocados in half lengthwise, leaving skins on, and remove the pits, then arrange on a bed of lettuce and fill the centers with crab, tuna, or chicken salad, garnishing with additional raw fresh vegetables and bread if desired. An avocado puréed with a little lemon juice, salt, other seasonings, and a dab of olive oil makes a great creamy salad dressing for lettuce or other greens. Avocados are also good on sandwiches and any combination of avocado, bacon, lettuce, tomato, turkey, or chicken makes a great sandwich.

Hats off to my son, Peter, Jr., for his tasty guacamole recipe. Enjoy and hope it helps you get in the zone during the big game!

Peter Jr.’s Easy Guacamole Dip

Ingredients:

3 avocados, peeled and mashed
Juice of 1 lime
½ red onion, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons fresh cilantro, minced
1 plum tomato, seeded and diced
Pinch of garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of cumin (optional)

Instructions:

In a large bowl, add all of the above ingredients and mix together.  If you’re not serving it right away, you can put into the refrigerator. To keep the avocado dip from turning brown, take one or more pits from the avocados, press down into the dip partially, and cover with plastic wrap, creating an airtight seal.

About “Produce Pete” Napolitano
With over 65 years of experience in the produce industry, New Jersey’s own “Produce Pete” Napolitano is a renowned fruit and vegetable expert, author, and television personality who’s appeared on a highly-popular segment on NBC’s Weekend Today in New York broadcast every Saturday mornings for over 27 years.  For more information, visit Pete’s website.

About Susan Bloom
A contributor to New Jersey Monthly and a variety of other well-known local and national publications, Susan Bloom is an award-winning New Jersey-based freelance writer who covers topics ranging from health and lifestyle to business, food and more. She’s collaborated with Produce Pete on a broad range of articles for more than a decade.

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