The Avocado Windfall
Originally posted on April 12, this story was updated April 26.
When Tony Jackson first heard that the College was getting 10,000 pounds of avocados this spring, he wondered, “How the heck are we going to go through all of those?”
A veteran chef with 29 years in Dining Services, Jackson knew he’d have to come up with something more than basic guacamole, so he started scouring the Internet for avocado recipes. There were avocado salads, avocado soups, avocado dressings, avocado dishes galore. And for a chef like Tony Jackson with access to a vast array of fresh foods, the possibilities seemed endless.
He was not alone in the quest; all the other chefs on campus have been digging into their recipe boxes because a tractor-trailer load of refrigerated Ettinger avocados arrived in Middlebury direct from southern California on March 30. There were 400 cases of avocados with about 25 avocados per case, or about 10,000 avocados in all.
The avocados are a gift from a Middlebury parent who wishes to remain anonymous. Suffice to say that the parent’s business interests include the sourcing of avocados in large quantities. “I see it as a win-win,” the parent told middmag.com. “The Ettinger is not as marketable as the Hass avocado, which is really the coin of the realm among avocados today. So we are pleased to put some smiles on the faces of the students at Middlebury, and introduce the uninitiated few to the pleasures of eating avocados.”
Pleasures indeed. How about avocado cheesecake? Yes! Avocado frittata? Absolutely! Avocado coconut frozen yogurt? Delicious! Avocado fries with chipotle dipping sauce? Mmmm! All of these dishes have been served in the dining halls this month.
The Ettinger avocado is a large, green, pear-shaped fruit with smooth skin and a big seed. Weighing about a pound each, the Ettinger is not to be confused with its more-popular first cousin, the Hass avocado with its black, pebbly skin. High in Vitamins B, C, and K, and rich in potassium, the Ettinger is just as nutritious as the Hass, with a slightly milder flavor.
Last Thursday morning Tony Jackson was putting the finishing touches to the lunch he prepared for the language tables in the Redfield Proctor Room. The first course would be avocado crab soup made with chicken stock and cream, and for the entrée students could choose from three dishes, two of which featured avocado. There were grilled pork chops with avocado black bean salsa, and tofu avocado sauté with broccoli and red onion. Within minutes the room was filled with students speaking Italian and Portuguese and Chinese and German—a Tower of Babel with avocados on the menu.
Since then the dining staff has served avocado cream cheese with smoked salmon (for Passover), Mediterranean avocado salad with artichokes and dill (an original recipe by Dawn Sumner in Proctor), avocado and tomato wraps (a big hit in Ross Dining Hall), and baby spinach salad with smoked salmon (and, you guessed it, slices of fresh avocado).
Yes, the sky’s the limit when it comes to avocados, especially when you have five tons of them to work with.
“Now, when students walk into the dining halls, they are on the lookout for the latest way that the staff has presented the avocados,” explained Robert “Bo” Cleveland, Middlebury’s executive chef.
“To say we are pleased with the efforts of the staff would fall far short of our feelings,” he added. They have “rallied around ways to present the fruit beyond the obvious” uses of avocados, and that has made it fun for everyone. “It has been a pleasure for us to work with such a prized commodity.”
Inside Proctor Dining Hall located right next to the apples, oranges, and bananas is a self-service station (below right) to peel and slice raw avocados. And although the Ettingers have been “on the menu” for barely a week, hardly a minute goes by before another student steps up, selects a ripe avocado from the basket, cuts it open, and goes back to a seat.
The director of dining services, Matthew Biette, worked directly with the donor to effect the shipment of avocados, which were harvested in mid-March, packed, cooled, and shipped straight to Middlebury.
“It is one of the most novel gifts I have ever heard of,” said Biette, “but avocados are such a valuable food source and so nutritious, how could we turn them down?”
The College has donated several cases to the high school culinary arts programs in Middlebury and Rutland, and is considering donating a few cases to the area food shelf for low-income families.
Meanwhile back in the Proctor kitchen, chef Richard O’Donohue and his staff are busy peeling and chopping avocados by the dozen. Will it be another gourmet dish, a grilled avocado with sweet relish perhaps? No, not this time. Thursday is Mexican Day in Proctor and—in addition to fajitas, refried beans, and vegetarian chili—guacamole will be on the menu.
Update: In response to questions raised by some readers of this story (below), the donor of the avocados explained that most major avocado packers, including Calavo, Mission Produce, Del Rey Avocado, IndexFresh, West Pak Avocado, and others, do not market “pollinator varieties” like the Ettinger. Instead, the pollinator varieties, called “Type B” avocados, are grown in fields with the more popular “Type A” avocados (such as the Hass) to increase production. When they mature, Ettinger and other Type B avocados are harvested and generally sold at California farmers’ markets and are not shipped great distances.
Before accepting the donation of avocados, Dining Services looked into the source of the fruit, researched uses for Ettinger avocados, and received a few cases so its own chefs could determine whether they would be of value to the College. Satisfied that the avocados from the anonymous donor would keep for weeks under refrigeration, that the chefs in Dining Services could create dishes using them, and that they would be well-received by students, the College accepted the 10,000-pound donation, which included the harvesting, packing, and shipping of the fruit.