The air in Raleigh was already hot and muggy at 5:15 a.m. when my son, Nick picked me up for the airport. I worked my way through security and sat, waiting for the boarding call,thinking about this long anticipated trip to California. I had no clue about the wonderful experience that awaited me just twenty-four hours later. Scott had made the trip a day ahead and was waiting on the other end when I arrived. The sky was clear and brilliantly blue and while that usually means HOT in Raleigh, the Southern California air was mild, balmy and very dry. It was love, at first breath!
We had a lovely visit and dinner that evening with Scott's brother and his wife, then tucked our little jet-lagged bodies into bed as we anticipated an early start the next morning.
A few minutes before seven, we were at The California Avocado Commission in Irvine, where we had the pleasure of meeting Angela, the marketing manager at CAC. We've worked with Angela for the past year doing recipe development and photography, and have loved knowing her virtually (emails, phone calls., etc.), but meeting this lovely and delightful woman in person was one of the highlights of our trip.
After a few big hugs, we hopped into her car and traveled about 20 minutes south down the San Diego Freeway. Just before San Juan Capistrano, Angela exited the Interstate and began heading towards the rugged California hills. Within minutes, there we were at one of the 5,000 avocado ranches located in Southern California.
If you visit The Café regularly, you know that we're quite crazy about avocados. I use them in a huge assortment of recipes, and their appeal never grows old. In fact, one of the most popular Café recipes of all time is a delicious Cranberry-Avocado Salad. There are tons of other avocado salad recipes, but I also use them in salsas, salad dressings, soups, cookies, cakes, cupcakes, on hamburgers and breakfast entrees. I've even pickled avocados and used them as appetizers. See what I mean? If you put "avocados" in The Café search bar (over to the left) you'll probably be shocked at how many avocado recipes show up. But you know what? With all of this avocado-love, we didn't have the slightest idea of how they were grown. Till now. And wow, did we learn a lot that morning in the avocado grove.
It was a beautiful day; perfect temperatures and crystal clear, blue skies. Derrick, the ranch manager and expert in-residence piled us in his truck and away we went ... sort of. The first stop was right on the edge of the parking lot, since the ranch had just recently received a shipment of babies. Baby avocado trees, that is. Derrick explained that the young trees are planted in the grove after being carefully tended for two years in a controlled nursery environment.
Many people have the misconception that, if you just plant that big old avocado seed in the right environment, an avocado tree is the result. It's not that easy; as we learned that morning. Derrick shared that, in order to produce consistent results for commercial production, young avocado plants are grafted with budwood from other well established varieties; a complex and very scientific process.
Once the trees are planted in the ground, it's another three to four years before they actually bear significant fruit. Avocado growing is definitely not a job for the impatient!
Back in the truck, we began to travel up the hillside where Derrick pointed out the lemon and avocado groves: the beautiful, shiny-leaved trees lined up like soldiers in perfect, straight rows.
Though we missed the avocado trees in blossom (that finished up about a week ago), it was fascinating to learn about how avocado growers ensure the pollination process. Special bee boxes (kind of like Rent-a-Bees) are brought in during the bloom season, and the happy bees flit from tree to tree cross-pollinating the blossoms in order to initiate the fruit formation process.
As you can well imagine, my husband Scott (The Café photographer) was happy as a clam with his camera in this incredibly beautiful environment (though we might have to purchase a bit more memory space for our computer after downloading all his shots!). Check out some of the awesome images!
We also had the pleasure of meeting a few of the workers at the ranch. Humberto (center in the photo below) told us that he's been employed at this same ranch since he was 21 years old. It was quite evident that he loves his work !
We learned so may fascinating things from Derrick during the tour.
Interesting Avocado Facts about how avocados grow:
- Avocados can remain "stored" on the tree for over a year. They only ripen once they're picked. How cool is that?
- A single avocado tree can produce as many as 500 avocados (approximately 52 pounds!) per year. There are a large number of avocado types. The ranch we visited grows at least 6 different variations.
- The Hass avocado variety is, by far, the most familiar and popular and accounts for 95% of the total crop volume. The original "Hass tree" was grown in the backyard of a mailman named Rudolph Hass in La Habra Heights, California over 80 years ago. All Hass avocado trees can be traced back to Rudolph's original tree.
- Avocados are picked by hand. The trees can get quite tall so a pole with a pouch and picker at one end is used. Workers go through an intensive training to learn which fruits to pick and which to leave growing on the trees.
- California produces 90% of the U.S.'s crop of avocados
But what impressed us the most, by far, is the tender loving care and the extent of time and energy that goes into every single avocado from California. Starting with the initial planting and extending through the years of harvest, it's really unbelievable what's involved. The consumer sees only the end result, but we were blessed with the opportunity to see the labor of love that's poured out day after day. I'll never look at an avocado with nonchalance again. Now I'll see beyond the speckled green skin and recall our delightful day in that California avocado grove. Thanks so much, Derrick and California Avocado Commission!
P.S. You didn't think I'd leave home without an avocado recipe to go along with this post, did you? Be sure to check back tomorrow for one of our favorite summer salads! It's a super healthy and SUPER delicious.