Sat | Nov 17, 2018

Tony Deyal | Avocado the peerless pear

Published:Saturday | December 16, 2017 | 12:40 AM

The Times they are a-changin’. It used to be true for Trinis that although the calypsonian, the Mighty Sparrow, sang calypso and not gospel, his credibility was such that “if Sparrow say so, is so”. But now the veracity crown is settled firmly on the hirsute head of Bob Dylan, who is not just the winner of a Nobel Prize, but a prophet with the rare distinction of being honoured in his own country and many others. The Times to which I am referring is the Los Angeles Times, and the change is the latest development in the history of the Avocado.

According to Reader’s Digest in an article titled ‘The Origin of the Word ‘Avocado’ Is About to Make You Really Uncomfortable:

You’ll never look at an avocado the same way again’: “Avocados originally came from Mexico and Central America, where the indigenous Nahua people found them. Back then, avocados were called the Nahuatl word Çhuacatl ­ which also happened to mean ‘testicles’. Scholars think the Nahua chose the name because the fruit has a, uh, suggestive shape and was considered an aphrodisiac.” It is believed that the Nahua probably used the anatomical definition as slang, like how we might use ‘nuts’ today.

So how did it become ‘avocado’? National Public Radio (NPR) of the US explained that on May 15, 1915, a group of California farmers got together to decide on the fate of a new crop, a pebbly skinned, pear-shaped fruit, which was a Mexican and Latin American staple since 500 BC and which had never been grown commercially in the US, but was being imported for the very high cost of $15 a dozen. The problem was not selling the fruit, but what to call it.

NPR explained the dilemma, “First, ahuacate was too hard for Americans to pronounce. Worse, it was the Aztec word for ‘testicle’, named for its shape and reputation as an aphrodisiac.

Then there was the other unappealing name: ‘alligator pear’. The farmers came up with a new name: avocado. They informed dictionary publishers of the change ­ and that the plural was spelled ‘avocados’, not ‘avocadoes’ ­ and named their own group the California Avocado Association.

However, they did not originate the euphemism. The first written record in English of the use of the word ‘avocado’ was by English baronet, Sir Hans Sloane, an Anglo-Irish doctor and naturalist who coined the term in 1669 in a 1696 index of Jamaican plants.

In Trinidad, an avocado is a ‘zaboca’. The origin of the term is supposedly French or Creole, but ‘boca’ in Spanish means ‘mouth’, and that, in the final analysis, is what avocados, ahuacates, and alligator pears are all about. They taste good.


My father loved avocados and even planted a tree in our yard. I can remember him climbing the tree and putting the avocados carefully in a bag to ensure they were not bruised or damaged. He did not have the same regard for me, since I had to stand under the tree and catch the bag, or, when he used a rod with a hand-shaped ‘cocoa knife’ on the end, I had to catch the zaboca before it fell ­ and hell if I let it fall to the ground.

After eating the zaboca, my father usually kept and planted the seeds hoping they would grow. Had he lived, the news in the LA Times that shows how the times are changing would have stunned him.

I suppose that we have become so used to the ceaseless flood of technical innovations that the news of a seedless avocado does not have much impact but even so, given that the trees originally grew from seeds, it is a major development. It also gives you more bang for your buck, since the seeds account for a lot of the weight and cost.

The Times report read, “Something good has managed to happen this year ­ shockingly, out of people’s inability to cut an avocado without hurting themselves. To save consumers from slicing open their own hands, a British retailer has begun selling pitless avocados that don’t require the use of a knife to remove the seeds.

More importantly, this means that when you spend $3 on just one, you get more avocado from your avocado. Never again will you have to open your pricey avocado to find it’s only 10 per cent edible. If you’ve ever experienced that tragedy, you know how disappointing it can be. These avocados are an unpollinated blossom of the fruit, grown without a seed.”

The Times says that the fruits, which are two to three inches long, are only available during December and from just one supplier, the British retailer, Marks & Spencer. They are not just seedless, but the skins are edible. The newspaper quips, “If you want to get your hands on one of these adorable fruits before you injure yourself trying to slice a pitted one, you’ll have to book a flight to England.

You better do it soon ­ January is almost here, and they’ll be out of season until winter of 2018.”

On the other hand, what The Times does not say is that a woman from Big Island in Hawaii, Pamela Wang, picked up an avocado weighing 5.2lb (2.35kg). She ate the massive avocado with friends and said, “It tasted excellent. The tree is very good. We had 10 people there and didn’t even use up half of one half of the avocado.” If my father had to choose, he would put on a loud multicoloured shirt, buy a grass skirt for my mother and a big bag for me, get his US visa, and head for Hawaii. If asked why, he would say bluntly, “I never cut my hand peeling a zaboca yet and regardless of how big it is, I am not going to start now.”

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that Dylan should demonstrate that the times are changing by composing a new hit to compete with Herb Hancock’s ‘Watermelon Man’. Would you believe, ‘ Avocado Man’?