On the steep hills of Ladera Ranch in Ojai, California, avocado grower Roger Essick points out the pear-shaped fruit hidden under glossy, dark green leaves. They are almost ready to be picked. To Essick, a 30-year veteran of the trade, these greenish black, pebbly skinned Hass avocados ― the variety most commonly available in the market ― represent gold. For consumers, they take a lot of gold to come by.
There are good reasons why avocados fetch premium prices. Though the fruit doesn't ripen completely on the tree, it needs to hang there until it acquires a certain oil content ― generally a full year. (At that age most Hass avocados weigh 8 to 12 ounces.) Then the fruit is handpicked, which is no mean feat considering the pitch of the slopes and the 20- to 30-foot height of the trees.
Prime season for these precious ovals is April through August. Markets should be full, and prices the year's lowest. But don't eat the avocados before their time. To optimize their buttery texture, make sure they're ripe: Store Hass avocados at room temperature until they give slightly when gently pressed (don't squeeze hard ― they bruise easily) and have turned an even, dark green. Once they're ripe, pop them in the refrigerator.
A perfectly firm-ripe avocado is outstanding with fruit, as an edible bowl for crab salad, on a steak or sandwich, or in a shrimp cocktail or spicy soup. Once it slips past the firm-ripe stage, enjoy its creamy goodness in everyone's favorite chip dip: guacamole.
To pit an avocado: Cut the fruit in half lengthwise around pit; pull halves apart. Insert the tip of a paring knife into the tip of the pit and carefully pry pit out.