The Central Coast is abloom with California’s favorite superfood

Photo courtesy of California Avocado Commission
WORTH THE WAIT: California is home to 90 percent of the nation’s avocado crop. The state’s terroir and coastal climate provide ideal growing conditions for the fruit, which take from 12 to 18 months to grow, then several days to ripen once cut from the tree.

The estimated 257 million pounds of avocados California will produce this season are hitting store shelves and restaurant menus now through early fall, and they’re bigger, greener, and tastier than ever.

“Winter and early spring rains contributed to delaying the usual start of harvesting but were excellent for California avocado tree health,” according to Terry Splane, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission, based in Irvine.

Avocado grower Ivor Van Wingerden of Ocean Breeze Farms in Arroyo Grande added that the deluge “helped the avocados gain size more quickly, so California fruit is likely to be on average larger this year.” 

Ocean Breeze, a major flower producer that also farms an 80-acre Hass orchard, sells the majority of its fruit to packing houses such as Index Fresh and Del Rey. The Arroyo Grande grower also sells its avocados to the public every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon, along with its flowers, at 1810 Willow Road.

click to enlarge The Central Coast is abloom with California’s favorite superfood
Photo courtesy of Hotel Slo
FROM TREE TO TABLE: Chef Ryan Fancher goes through about eight cases of avocados per week. He selects a healthy percentage from Ocean Breeze Farms for use in Hotel SLO’s three restaurants. Current standout dishes include lobster-stuffed avocado, yellowfin tuna sashimi, Dungeness crab salad, and an elevated guacamole.

“Avocados from San Luis Obispo County have a longer season than most of the rest of California due to our mild climate,” Van Wingerden said. “Their flavor really starts to shine in May and will continue to improve. … Most avocados will be harvested by August or September to fill the needs of the packing houses, but we always save some on the trees for our own sales as well as for Hotel SLO.”

The downtown San Luis Obispo hotel’s chef, Ryan Fancher, “is a close friend of mine and is the only restaurant we deal with directly,” he added.

Fancher said he’s excited about this year’s crop and plans to work them into a number of dishes at the property’s three eateries—Michelin-mentioned Ox+Anchor, Piadina, and High Bar.

One of his seasonal favorites is lobster-stuffed avocado, which is currently on the tasting menu at Ox+Anchor and also available at the rooftop bar. Sometimes, you can catch it on the menu with Dungeness crab. 

“I love this dish,” he said. “The inspiration came from a project we were working on in Sonoma County. We were opening the rooftop bar at the Harmon House in Healdsburg and the chef at that time really wanted to serve a shrimp Louie salad. It wasn’t my favorite dish so we worked really hard to elevate the presentation. Of course, the avocados need to be perfect for this dish.”

Fancher said avocados are probably Hotel SLO’s favorite ingredient because of their beautiful color, flavor, and texture. He looks for large, firm Hass avocados.

click to enlarge The Central Coast is abloom with California’s favorite superfood
Photo courtesy of Hotel Slo
TART TRICK: To store cut avocado, the California Avocado Commission recommends sprinkling it with lemon juice, lime juice, or white vinegar, wrapping it tightly in plastic wrap or placing it in an airtight container, then refrigerating it to prevent discoloration.

“We especially love the Hass that the Van Windergen family are growing on the [Nipomo] Mesa at Ocean Breeze Farms,” he added.

According to Splane, there are nine varieties of avocados grown commercially in California by about 3,000 growers on approximately 50,000 acres from Monterey to San Diego.

Varieties include Bacon, Fuerte, GEM, Gwen, Lamb Hass, Pinkerton, Reed, Zutano, and the legendary Hass, which accounts for 95 percent of the crop value.

“The original Hass tree, the mother of all Hass avocados, is a California native,” Splane said. “Grower Rudolph Hass planted an avocado seed (in La Habra Heights nearly 100 years ago). From that seed grew a tree that yielded fruit with a unique rich and nutty taste loved by many.

“Today, every Hass avocado eaten worldwide can trace their lineage to the mother Hass tree.”

click to enlarge The Central Coast is abloom with California’s favorite superfood
Photo courtesy of Hotel Slo

Chef Ryan Fancher’s Lobster-Stuffed Avocado
Servings: 4 halves

2 ripe avocados
1 pound chilled lobster meat (or substitute crab)
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 Roma tomato diced with seeds removed
potato chips
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons crème fraiche (or substitute sour cream)
1 bunch chives, chopped

In a small mixing bowl, combine the lobster, mayonnaise, tarragon, diced tomato, and lemon zest. Season to taste with salt and pepper. In a separate small bowl, combine the crème fraiche and chives. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cut avocados in half, removing the seed and skin. Even out the bottom by slicing off a small portion of the avocado making the bottom side flat so it rests level on a plate. Pack the lobster mixture into the center of the avocado, overflowing above the cavity of the avocado core. Place a large dollop of the chive crème fraîche in the middle of the plate. Place the stuffed avocado on the crème fraîche and top with a couple of your favorite potato chips.

Splane offers the following advice for selecting “mouthwatering, velvety, creamy avocados” at local farmers’ markets or the grocery store: Firstly, make sure California is on the label, ensuring your fruit is “meticulously cared for … and responsibly grown.” Then, gently squeeze the fruit in the palm of your hand. Ripe, ready-to-eat fruit will yield to gentle pressure.

To ripen avocados, place the fruit in a paper bag and store at room temperature until ready to eat—usually two to five days.

“Adding an apple, banana, or a kiwi fruit in the bag accelerates the process, because these fruits give off ethylene, a natural hormone that promotes ripening,” Splane continued. “The more apples or kiwi fruit you add, the quicker your avocados will ripen.”

Conversely, to slow down the ripening process, store uncut avocados in the refrigerator for two or three days.

He cautions that color alone does not tell the whole story.

“For example, the Hass avocado will turn dark green to purplish-black as it ripens, but other avocado varieties retain their light-green skin even when ripe,” he said.

Avocados are “a heart-healthy superfood and are naturally sodium-, cholesterol-, and trans fat-free,” Splane said. “They are also a good source of … fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin K, pantothenic acid (B5), and copper, an essential mineral that helps keep the blood vessels, nerves, immune system, and bones healthy.”

Contributor Cherish Whyte is stocking up on her favorite fruit, which can even be frozen! Reach her at [email protected].