Monday, May 08, 2017

Chinese Gooseberries and Alligator Pears

In my early years in California, a colleague gave me three or four huge avocados.  They were from her father's farm in Lindsay, which was only a few minutes of a drive away.

I was new to this fruit--until I came to graduate school in Los Angeles, I had't even heard of avocados.  I was just about getting used to eating chips with store-bought guacamole, and now three huge avocados were staring at me on the kitchen counter.

All I knew was that they were not ripe.  They felt rock solid.  

I let a couple of days go by.  They didn't seem to get any less solid.  

After another couple of days, I lost my patience.  I was now beginning to behave like one of those characters in "Three men in a boat."  

I knifed one of those avocados.  They were solid, and raw, and now I was stuck with a wasted fruit.

Undeterred, I decided to chop them down to pieces in the Cuisinart.  And then added salt to taste.

I threw the whole thing into the trash can.

Over time, I learnt how to make good use of avocados.  A few years later, when I started teaching at the local university, Juan, who was a Mexican-American student, shared with me his family recipe to make guacamole.  The first couple of times, I faithfully followed the recipe.  And then I started freewheeling like I always do in the kitchen.

If only I had known avocados back when I was a kid in India--maybe like some of the southeast Asians, I too would have had avocado milkshakes ;)

Eating something alien to us is not easy.  Consider even the name avocado; in most of the US, avocados were not even how they were referred to.
While avocados were popular in California, that wasn’t true for the rest of the country. In the beginning of the 20th-century, they were called “alligator pears.” Their bumpy, olive skin connected them to those denizens of the swamp, and it’s shape resembled, well, a pear.  They had a marketing problem.
I am not sure if I would have eagerly sought out alligator pears.  We might quote "what's in a name"; but, the reality is that the name makes a huge difference.  Names can be misleading too--like how when I was new in the country, I thought that Chinese Gooseberries were the gooseberries back in the old country!

And then the alligator pears went through an intense marketing and branding makeover.  The rest, as they say, is history.
At the end of the day, avocados have a place on today’s table thanks in part to a tireless campaign to redefine and redraft their identity. Some of it was misguided, some of it was weird and some of it was good. That is the nature of advertising.

1 comment:

Ramesh said...

Much ado about nothing; well food (same thing)

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