A brief history of avocados (or ‘alligator pears’) & 14 vintage avocado recipes


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Some of the earliest reports of “alligator pears” come from the 1820s, typically in dispatches from Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica and other Caribbean/Central American countries. Also called ahuacate, the avocado was a real novelty — prized by many for its taste, consistency and oil.

What is interesting is that many of the avocados available in the past seem to have been much larger than those that make it to grocery stores today — a couple photos illustrating this fact are below.

The ones found nowadays are typically around 6 to 9 ounces each. These babies? Almost three pounds. They were often also much more rounded.

This hefty size is in keeping with a reference made in a letter published by Putnam’s Monthly in 1853, which came from a correspondent in Cuba. That traveler described the fruit for the folks stateside: “There is yet another occupant of the breakfast table which finds great favor with all natives and many foreigners: it is the aguacate, or alligator pear.

“It is somewhat of the shape, and generally, three or four times the size of an ordinary pear. Its outer skin is tough, and of a bright green color; in the center is a smooth stone, about as large in proportion as that of a peach.”

Below, find a few more examples of how the history of the avocado — our modern day toast-topper, guacamole-maker and sushi-stuffer — played out in newspapers across the country in decades past.

Avocado history: On the first mention of “alligator pear” (1922)

The earliest mention of the manner in which the name “alligator pear” was first applied to the avocado, the true name of the fruit, is found in the writings of James Grainger, a Scotch physician and poet, who went to the West Indies in 1759, and died there at St. Christopher, December 16, 1766.

Grainger produced a number of works, including essays, and among them, “The Sugar Cane,” published in London in 1763, in which he says, in allusion to the corruption of the name avocado: “The avocato, avocado, avigato, or as the English call it, ‘alligator pear.'” – Greenville Advocate (Greenville, Alabama) – July 7, 1922

Avocados with pit

Holy guacamole! (1917)

The Nimlioh avocado, a productive and large variety

Few large varieties are as productive as this one. In 1917, the parent tree, growing in a dooryard in Antigua, bore so many fruits that it was unable to develop them all to normal size. The largest specimens weighed nearly 3 pounds; many were more than 2 pounds in weight. The quality of the fruit is excellent, the flesh being yellow, free from all discoloration, and of very rich flavor.

While large varieties may not be as desirable as medium-sized ones for general planting in the United States, a limited demand for large fruits seems certain, and avocados such as this are promising. (Photographed at Antigua, Guatemala, February 21, 1917.)

Large avocados

Fruit from Guatemala (1922)

“Introduced by Wilson Popenoe, the Guatemalan avocado, or alligator pear, of which fine specimens now being grown in California and Florida are declared to be remarkable delicacies and far superior to the alligator pears that prematurely reached the market a few years ago.” – Popular Science, November 1922
1922 huge avocados alligator pears

How a famous chef serves alligator pears (1914)

The alligator pear grows on a fine, spreading evergreen tree with leaves large and oval in shape. While a native of northern South America, it is now widely grown in the West Indies and Florida.

The alligator pear is also known as “midshipman’s butter,” and is one of the best or all tropical fruits, being easily digested, wholesome and nourishing.

An analysis shows it to contain twenty percent fat. and in a form which can be taken by the most delicate persons, even when they cannot partake of fat from an animal source.

The alligator pear requires very few trials before one becomes extremely fond of it. In addition to being palatable, it is a great aid in building up both muscular and nervous systems.

There are various manners in which the alligator pear may be served, but it is generally used as a salad. It is ripe or ready for use when it will yield readily to a slight pressure of the fingers.

MORE: 10 easy avocado recipes from the ’70s & ’80s

Alligator pear/avocado recipes

The following recipes for alligator pears are ones used by the chef of one of New York’s most famous hotels:

ASTORIA SALAD: Hearts of Romaine, covered with sliced orange, pineapple, grapefruit, and alligator pear cut into small squares and served with French dressing.

ALEXANDER SALAD: Take a heart of lettuce. hollow it, and fill hollow space with small spoonfuls of alligator pear and nut meat, and serve with French dressing.

MISS SIMPLICITY SALAD: After removing rind and seed, cut into small squares and serve on a lettuce leaf, with nut meat and a French dressing.

A LA CANTALOUPE: Another and probably the most popular manner of serving the fruit is to halve it, and after removing seed and lining, serve half to each person, with a light sprinkling of salt, or salt, pepper, vinegar and olive oil. It may also be served in halves, as above, substituting lime or lemon juice for vinegar; or it is extremely palatable if halved, served with prepared salad dressing (after the latter has been thinned with vinegar and olive oil), when it may be eaten in the same manner as a cantaloupe.

The alligator pear is deserving of even greater popularity, owing to its nourishing and digestible qualities.

Salads and sandwiches may be made from popular local fruit (1929)

The following avocado recipes have been collected by the Avocado Association of Hawaii:

Avocado combination salad
Combine sliced or cubed avocados with tomato, carrot, cucumber, beets and finely-chopped celery. Garnish with shredded chili pepper or green pepper, and serve with mayonnaise or French dressing.

Avocado halves
Cut the avocado in half lengthwise, remove the seed and serve with desired dressing: Mayonnaise, tomato catsup. chili sauce, sugar. French dressing, salt and vinegar, or sugar and cream.

Avocado Hawaii
Fill the cavity of the halved avocado in skin with crushed pineapple, diced celery and chopped walnuts. Top with cottage cheese and cover with mayonnaise. Garnish with chili pepper or pimento and serve chilled. (From Hawaii Agricultural Experiment Station)

Avocado sandwich spread
6 tablespoons avocado pulp
1 tablespoon finely-chopped sweet pickle
1 tablespoon chopped pimento
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice or cider vinegar
Pinch of salt

Put peeled avocado through potato masher and mix well with the above ingredients. If a large quantity is to be made, pass the avocado through a meat grinder using the nut butter attachment.

Serve on crisp crackers or thin slices or white bread or crisp toast. (From Fruit Products Laboratory, University of California)

Avocado mayonnaise
To five tablespoons of the avocado pulp, add one tablespoon of mayonnaise, a pinch of salt and one tablespoon of lemon juice. Beat up together and serve with different salads.

Horseshoe salad
Peel one avocado and slice through the center lengthwise, remove the stone and use slices one-fourth inch thick. Fill the hollow with whole orange sections. Garnish cut surface of the avocado with cloves to represent nails in a horseshoe. Chill and serve with mayonnaise. (Used by Home Economics Dept., University of Hawaii)


Avocado recipes offer new salads (1932)
Popular fruit plentiful and cheap this year

The Miami News (Miami, Florida) – November 25, 1932

With low prices and a plentiful market on avocados, Florida’s “salad fruit,” new ways of preparing this popular food centers attention of homemakers. The Florida Avocado Growers Exchange, located at Naranja, sends these recipes for using the fruit.

Avocado toast recipe
Mash and season avocado pulp and spread thickly on hot buttered toast. Pour over this a hot, highly-seasoned tomato sauce.

Avocado-tomato salad
Peel and cube an avocado. Add; an equal amount of chilled, sliced tomatoes, and a little chopped onion. Serve on lettuce with French dressing. garnished with celery curls, ripe olives and thin slices of marinated incumber. Sprinkled paprika placed around the edges adds a colorful touch, or rings of green peppers may be used.

Stuffed celery salad recipe
Stuff crisp celery stalks with mashed avocado pulp seasoned with salt, grated onion and paprika. Cut in small pieces and arrange with slices of chilled tomatoes and cucumbers. Serve with French dressing,

Hawaiian sandwich
Mash or slice thin strips of avocado, season with salt, pepper, grated or sliced onion and lemon juice. Place between thin slices of buttered whole wheat bread.

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. Some biologists theorize that avocados evolved to accommodate large herbivores that have long since been extinct, such as the giant ground sloth. As it is, no animal alive today can ingest the pits.

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