Avocado: The veritable fruit of paradise

According to David Fairchild, American botanist and plant explorer, “The avocado is a food without rival among the fruits, the veritable fruit of paradise.”

This wonderful fruit will be celebrated at the eighth annual Avocado Festival. The free, zero-waste event runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday on the Bay Front Lawn at the Sheraton Kona Resort &Spa at Keauhou Bay.

Start thinking of your favorite avocado recipe or imagine a new avocado dish and perhaps you’ll be a winner in this year’s recipe contest. If you are more comfortable tasting food than preparing it, get your taste buds ready. This year’s recipe contest will feature some interesting variations on avocado dishes; all entries will be available for tasting at noon.

The recipe contest is fun to enter with four entry categories all with avocados as the main ingredient. The appetizer category includes guacamole and always has lots of tasty entries. The entree category features soups, salads and main dishes. Last year’s prize in this category went to Brenda Cloutier for her delicious chilled avocado-cucumber soup. The dessert category always includes some creative entries including cakes, pies and even ice cream. Maggie McDermott won last year with her frozen avocado pie. Recipes in the new vegan category can be for anything that does not include animal products — no meat, eggs or dairy. All four categories will have prize winners and a “best of show” prize will also be awarded.

Entrants need to submit their entry plus a copy of the recipe as well as sufficient samples for public tasting between 8 and 10 a.m. the morning of the festival. Food writer Sonia Martinez will lead the judging to be completed by 11 a.m. More information about the contest is available at hawaiianwellness.com/8th-annual-avocado-festival or by calling Martinez at 963-6860. Get original and go for a prize with an interesting recipe from this versatile fruit.

More than 200 avocado varieties grow here in Hawaii. Each has a slightly different flavor and oil content. All are good for you and have many uses in food as well as cosmetics. Avocados contain healthy oil that makes them a heart-friendly food choice as well as a cosmetic treat for your skin. Painting your face with avocado pulp that has been blended smooth can soften and moisten your skin while providing you a chance to have a green face for about 10 minutes. Adding honey, banana or lemon can add to the experience and the healing, cleansing and moisturizing properties. Recipes for avocado face masks abound on the Internet.

If you have room for a large tree on your property, avocados are a great choice. Avocado trees will grow and produce well here in Kona at elevations between about 600 and 2,000 feet. You’ll get the best fruit by planting a grafted tree that can guarantee a certain variety since growing from avocado seeds does not always guarantee the same fruit as the tree the seed came from. Most area nurseries carry grafted avocado varieties that will produce fruit in three to five years. Though most avocados bear fruit for only a few months every year, you can get several varieties or graft different varieties onto a single root stock and have fruit nearly year-round. Do some tasting and some research to find plants that will produce fruit to match your flavor and production season preferences.

Plan on spending some time at this year’s Avocado Festival. Musical entertainment starts at 11 a.m., with an Eco-Green Fashion Show at 2 p.m. and live entertainment until 5. University of Hawaii Extension Agent Ty McDonald will lead a presentation on grafting avocados at 11 a.m. and a panel discussion “Keeping the Culture in Agriculture,” with area leaders in agriculture and nutrition participating, will follow at noon. Bring the keiki, too, as special games, a banner painting project and some product sampling will be provided for them. Informational displays, as well as farmer, craft and food vendor booths, will also be part of the festival.

Tropical gardening helpline

Joe asks: I bought an avocado tree at last year’s Avocado Festival and I wonder if I should be pruning it. If so, how?

Answer: As with any young tree, pruning to establish a shape and form for the mature tree is always a good idea. With avocados, the goal is to have lots of fruit grow low enough to pick easily. Avocado trees can easily get large with fruit up very high unless you start training the tree early in its life.

Focus on reducing the height of the tree once or twice a year by cutting upright growing branches that are more than 6 feet off the ground back to a crotch. Encourage side, lateral growing branches where possible. Never remove more than one-third of the canopy in a single pruning session, however.

Once the tree begins fruiting, do some annual pruning at the end of the fruiting season to maintain a size and height that you prefer. The best and healthiest cuts will always be back to a crotch in the tree.

Email plant questions to konamg@ctahr.hawaii.edu for answers by Certified Master Gardeners. Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant with an organic farm in Captain Cook.