--John Buchan, in The 39 Steps
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Known as "alligator pears" for their shape and reptilian skin, and as "poor man's butter" for their creaminess, avocados are most colorfully known as the fruit of the "testicle tree." It's no mystery why. Fully fruited, these ovulate gems hang down from the trees in twos--and have a longstanding reputation as aphrodisiacs.
A native Central American plant, whose name reputedly comes from the Indian word ahuacatl, the avocado can be traced back to 3rd century BC in Mexico and Guatemala. It was cultivated by Aztecs and Incas. In 1519, the Spanish cartographer Martin Fernandez de Encisco, returning from an exploration on the northern coast of South America, pronounced it "marvelous of flavor, so good and pleasing to the palate that it is a marvelous thing." In 1651, priest Barnabe Cobo distinguished separate types: Mexican, Guatemalan, and West Indian.
George Washington, on a visit to Barbados in his youth, reportedly ate the avogato with extreme pleasure.
It moved to North America when horticulturist Henry Perrine planted some in southern Florida in 1833--but didn't become popular until the 1930s. Spanish missionaries probably introduced them to California at an earlier time.
Two varieties are most commonly sold in stores: the thick-skinned, blackish, and pebbly Hass, with its small pit and buttery texture--and the thin-skinned, green, and smooth Fuerte. Where did these names come from? Southern Californian postman Rudolph Hass discovered this strain and patented it in 1935. Fuerte--meaning strong--referred to the fact that this strain descended from the only bud that survived at 1913 freeze in Altadena, California.
They are a whacking 16% oil--but unsaturated--a good source of vitamin C, iron, and potassium.
If you're impatient and want to ripen them fast--you have a slow-fast and and fast-fast method. If you have a day or two, stick the avocado in a paper bag with a cut apple. If you want it NOW, soften it in a microwave at 50% power for 30-45 seconds--and keep doing it til you can feel it's soft. It won't ripen, but it WILL soften.