The Price of Avocados

It is large and green and looks so inviting. I imagine it mashed in a bowl with a jalapeño, a hint of tomato, some spices. But I can’t do it. I can’t spend $2.99 for an avocado, not even an organic one. I walk out of the store with my bag of kale and wine, avocado still on the grocery list in my mind.

One birthday, when I was in my teens, I asked my aunt to send me some avocados from her tree in Southern California, where I spent my first seven years. The box winged it’s way through two states and arrived at my Washington State door in February. Her avocados were different than the ones I could buy at the store, they weren’t as bumpy, or as small. All too soon, they were gone.

At least once a week, when I was growing up, we had tacos. My mom would pour a generous helping of oil into a skillet and fry our tortillas until they were crispy. Sometimes, we would fill them with equally crispy fish, cut into small pieces, coated in flour and sizzled in a neighboring pan. Other days, she would brown ground beef or turkey while I grated cheese and sometimes tore lettuce.

We would put all of the ingredients into the sections of a plastic tray. It was our taco tray, and I never thought to question whether it could have another purpose. Each member of my family would pile their shell high with the filling of their choice. I always made sure to add a generous dollop, or two, of guacamole.

When we had guests for dinner, after we moved to Washington, there was often a conversation about the way we served our tacos. In the Pacific Northwest, I learned, most people purchase pre-formed “taco shells” which seemed much more like large, curved tortilla chips to me. For the very brave, tacos were made with cold, soft tortillas. I was a polite child, and I ate these foreign foods without complaint when at friend’s houses, invited to stay for dinner.

When I went away to college in central Indiana, I was thrilled to be paired with a roommate from Texas. She will understand, I thought. We will pursue authentic Mexican food together.

Her uncle, a professor at our university, invited us for lunch some Sundays. On one such occasion, my roommate made guacamole. I watched, with mounting horror, as she added spoonfuls of Miracle Whip and stirred it in.

We were saying the same words, but we did not mean the same thing. It has taken me a long time to try Tex-Mex again.

On my visits to San Diego, my birthplace, I often see avocado trees from the window of our rental car. These trips are filled with family, driving, and the beach. Still, no matter how long I’m there, I always venture to Old Town, to a little place we used to go when I was small. I pause to watch the women in the window, making tortillas by hand as fast as they can. The perfect distraction, while waiting to be seated at the busy part of the day.

When my brother and I were little, my parents would order two Tostada Supremas and fresh flour tortillas. We would all make tacos out of these plates, which seemed monstrously big to my little eyes.

Now, when I go, I order a Tostada Suprema all my own, with extra guacamole, and a margarita. Somehow, I usually manage to finish the plate (though I have carried leftovers with me on the plane, inspiring jealousy in my fellow passengers).

Periodically, I buy some oil, tortillas and ground beef. I’ve been waiting for the price of avocados to go down, but they never seem to fall very far. I compare the small green fruit to a coffee, measuring it against any other indulgence, and it usually makes it’s way into my basket.

3665955683_a630020fcf_zI fold a paper towel and put it on a plate, ready to catch the excess oil from the golden brown tortilla, waiting to be filled.

I cut the avocado in half and draw parallel lines with my paring knife, just as my mother used to, scooping the resulting little squares into a bowl with a spoon. Always, I sigh with relief when the inside is green and a little firm. There is nothing like the disappointment of an avocado too ripe to eat.

I don’t belong in the land of my birth any more than I belong in the mountains and valleys of the Northwest. My roots don’t lead to any one place of belonging, but to many. Still, when I take a bite and close my eyes, I taste the peace of that which is familiar and much-loved, and I’m glad that I splurged on the avocado after all.

*   *   *   *   *

cara profile“The Price of Avocados” was written by Cara Strickland. Cara has lived in San Diego, California, London, England, and Upland, Indiana. Once, in college, she wrote an essay saying that she was from Narnia. She currently lives in Spokane, WA, where she is a writer, blogger, editor, and food critic. She almost always finds a way to write about food. Cara blogs at “Little Did She Know” and can be found on Twitter @littledidcknow.

(Avocado photo curtesy of HarmonyRae.)

12 Thoughts.

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  3. This is a gorgeous tribute to Avocados, one of my favorite foods! I really should have read this closer to lunch time 😉

    Also, MIRACLE WHIP?!

    I mean, the depravity.

    • I am with you, Lindsay. I still can’t believe that happened.

      I’m so glad you’re also a lover of avocados. There is something truly special about them. Glad I made you hungry.

      Thanks so much for being here.

  4. Miracle whip? Are you serious? It seems like the fresh avocados might start crying in the bowl.

    I like this sense of place as being grounded in something that you love. It makes me think of my husband, a SoCal transplant to Pittsburgh, as being “from” all the food that is dear to him–from farmer’s market tamales to homemade venison jerky.

    • I know, Jennifer. I nearly fell over when I saw it. (I’m against Miracle Whip in all cases, but especially this one).

      I love that idea, of being from food we love. I guess I am, at that, it just travels with me. I’m thankful for these movable feasts of memory (and I’m glad your husband has them, too).

      Thanks so much for the interesting thought!

  5. Cara, in one sense this story is a love song for avocados (and I happen to agree—they deserve the love!). It’s also a lovely exploration of deeper ideas: where we come from, where we are, and how our journeys through those places shape our understanding of the world. This line captures that: “We were saying the same words, but we did not mean the same thing.” Thank you for sharing your words with us!

    • Kristin,
      You’re right of course. I would gladly write of my love for avocados all the day, but it’s also about where I’ve come from and the way I see the world. It’s always surprised me that even though much of the rest of cooking has come with difficulty, I can handle an avocado with grace and speed.
      Thank you so much for having me. Such an honor to be here.

  6. Cara, believe it or not, we have beautiful avocados in our grocery markets here in Memphis, TN! But, they are not as expensive as yours. I relish the sight of avocados on my kitchen counter.
    I love this sentence: “…when I take a bite and close my eyes, I taste the peace of that which is familiar and much loved.”
    Thank you for sharing.

    • Lisa,
      I do believe it! Thankfully, they aren’t always that expensive, but they do get up there sometimes.
      I’m so glad this resonated with you. It’s amazing how food can bring calm (or anxiety).
      Thank you so much for your comment.

  7. Oh for the love of Avocados! Yes!!! We have friends who live in South Africa and they were appalled at the state of our grocery store offerings! His job there is to calculate the best shipping times to insure perfectly ripe Avocado’s to arrive stateside… he is now convinced that I have never had one! Still… I will splurge because, oh my goodness! (A little sea salt and freshly squeezed lime juice… and a spoon! Amen.)

    • It’s such a wonderful thought that someone’s whole job is to make sure avocados arrive at just the right time. Every once in a while, when I have a particularly good one, I will think of your friend.
      There really is nothing better, is there?
      Thank you for being here, Karrilee.

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