A recent four-day tour in Baja California, Mexico, provided an education into a region that Forbes Travel Guide described as “The Napa of Mexico,” thanks to its more than 200 world-recognized wineries.
While the unique cuisine and wine pairings will not soon be forgotten, two other experiences linger in my mind: learning about acorns as a nutritional powerhouse from the Indigenous people of the Kumiai Reserve and discovering other varieties of avocados.
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The Kumiai Indian Reserve is an educational center that tells the story of the people who lived in the area for thousands of years; only a few hundred remain today. Their diet was largely acorns, native seeds and small animals such as rabbits.
As part of the presentation, an Indigenous chef made a drink from acorns and an acorn stew with pinto beans.
“Atole is a traditional warm Mexican corn drink, but the Kumiai made the drink with acorns in ancient times since they had not learned to grow corn yet,” translator Marlana Hammann said. “Once the acorns are boiled and dried, they were ground using a metate, a stone bowl-like utensil, and a mano, a kind of pestle.”
The chef mixed the finely ground powder with warm water and seasoned it with sugar and vanilla. For the main dish, she cooked the acorn meat in oil and added it to cooked pinto beans and some other native pumpkin seeds. It was served with a corn tortilla. The acorns had a starchy and nutty flavor.
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During the tour, I met Marion (Mimi) Holtz and learned about her and her husband, Ben, who owns California Avocados Direct, an online avocado store in Escondido, Calif. The Holtz family has been growing avocados since 1901, and Ben, a fourth-generation grower, took the business online in 2008.
The Hass avocado is most prevalent in grocery stores, making it seem as the only variety. Not so. The Holtz farm harvests 11 varieties in addition to the Hass, bearing names such as Pinkerton, Nabal, Fuerte, Gem and Bacon. Each is different in shape, color and smoothness.
“The Hass is by far the easiest and most prolific,” Holtz said. “We can harvest it almost year-round, while other varieties are seasonal.”
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A good way to learn about each type is online at californiaavocadosdirect.com. There you can order a six-pack featuring three varieties of avocados or a monthly subscription that delivers all varieties seasonally. The avocados arrive hard and must ripen a few days at room temperature.
“The fruit is ready to eat when it yields to gentle pressure from your thumb,” Holtz said.
I ordered the spring sampler of Hass, Pinkerton and Gem avocados and was surprised to discover there wasn’t much difference in flavor among the three.
I emailed Holtz to find out if there should have been distinct differences in flavor.
“As for flavor, the answer is ‘it depends,'” she wrote. “When a particular variety is early in its season, the oil content will not be as high as it will be later in the season. That oil content is what causes the avocado to soften and be edible in the first place. So if you try a Hass avocado very early in the season, it won’t have as much deep flavor or be as buttery as it will be later in the season. ”
Contact the writer: 636-0271.
contact the writer: 636-0271.