This past weekend marked the 30th annual California Avocado Festival in Carpinteria. The festival boasted live music, good food, activities and vendors and is acknowledged as one of California’s largest free admission food festivals. But how did the tiny town come to host this event? Why does the California Avocado Festival have a place on the humble central coast? Well, to understand why we should look back way into the past to understand California’s history with the avocado. Avocado’s have long been a part of North America’s culture. Dating back to 750 B.C. there are findings of seeds in Incan royalty burials and evidence of cultivation in Mexico as early as 500 B.C.
California’s history starts much later. In 1871 the first three avocado trees were planted in Santa Barbara by Judge R.B. Ord, and later in 1890 commercial growing began to take off. However, California’s footprint in the avocado industry would be changed by a postal worker named Randolph Hass who discovered one of his avocado trees had exceptionally good fruit. He shortly named and patented it the Hass avocado. In the 1950s California’s avocado production consisted of 25 varieties with the Fuerte strain consisting of about two-thirds of the production. However, after the avocado industry expansion in the 1970s, Hass quickly took the title of the more popular variety, and today it consists of about 95 percent of California’s production. Much of the production of this variety is carried out in the central part of California because of its fertile soil and favorable growing conditions. To this day, the Hass avocado is an important worldwide good whose birthplace is right here in California from Randolph Hass himself.
His accomplishments, along with the other countless California avocado farmers of past and present, have provided us with a way of life that is perfectly embodied in the spirit of the California Avocado Festival. Here are some of the highlighted dishes from the festival:
Garlic-Avocado Chimichurri Beer-Battered Fries:
The first place that caught my eye was the Samba Brazilian BBQ. They had a small paper hanging from their tent that read “Garlic-Avocado Chimichurri Beer Battered Fries.” I was sold before I even finished reading that insanely long name. To my luck, they were only $8, which to me seemed much cheaper than some of the other items on the menu. Within minutes, I had the fries in my hand. I loved them, which is probably why I finished them in a matter of minutes. I was really digging the texture of the fries, which is something that usually doesn’t matter to me. They were pretty crunchy, thanks to the beer batter, which I enjoyed. The avocado-garlic chimichurri sauce was mouth-watering good. It may have been a bit too heavy on the garlic, which my breath made obvious, but I would definitely order these delicious fries again.
Chips and Guacamole:
I decided to go with a classic chips and guacamole combo, because why not? I am a huge guacamole fan, and I always pay the extra $2 for it wherever I go. I found a small tent, put on by a local high school, selling it for $5. There was a bit of a line, and I am pretty sure the funds went to something helpful, so it sounded good to me. When I took my first bite into it, I felt a bit sad. This is a feeling I never like to feel while eating. I believe you can do so much with guacamole to spice it up, and I felt like they didn’t try that hard. The avocado tasted fresh but that was about it. However, I would say for what it was, it was good. Not great, just good. I ate all of it, of course, and I felt satisfied.
I started my California Avocado Festival experience with a cup of corn topped with guacamole, cheese and bacon. Although this at first seemed a strange combination of foods, the meal turned out to be delicious and eloquent. The creaminess of the corn worked well with the tasteful guacamole. The grated cheese added a soft texture and extra flavoring to the simple corn base. This plate was enjoyable due to its interesting combination of flavors and its simple structure of consumption. Who knew corn, avocado, bacon and cheese would work well together? My $7 cup of corn was well worth it as the blend of flavors left me full and satisfied.
Next, I tried avocado gelato in a cone. The $5 dessert seemed intriguing as I didn’t think the texture of gelato and the flavor of avocado would work. I was rather surprised, however, when this dish worked extremely well. The creaminess of the avocado complimented the coldness of the gelato. This brought a sweet and cold dessert with a kick. The cone lowered the intensity of the flavor, which ultimately made the dessert more satisfying.
Avocado Honey Ale:
The avocado flavor in the honey avocado ale wasn’t really noticeable, but the ale had a crisp and rich summery flavor that kept the heat from bothering me. It had an alcohol content of 5.7 percent and was produced by Island Brewing Company. The depth was there and the smoothness was well-needed after stuffing my face with chips and guac. Definitely something I would reach for in a cooler, if not for the taste but for the California vibe it emanates from every sun-soaked carbonated bubble.
The history of the avocado in California is a long and interesting one, but one thing is for sure: The California Avocado Festival draws everyone in. Even if you felt it was overcrowded or didn’t get your fill, something always keeps bringing you back to that little town come early October because everyone wants to feel a little more connected to California’s rich history.