An abundant crop of 'alligator pears'

Avocados will be plentiful this season with excellent distribution throughout the United States. The best news: retail prices are expected to average 39 cents per avocado. This price is exactly what consumers paid for avocados in the 1950s, says the California Avocado Commission.

Other news about this fruit is that we will be able to buy two kinds - one that's ripe and ready to eat the same day you buy it and another that will be ripe and ready to eat in a couple of days.

If shoppers don't find this choice in the supermarkets, they should ask the store manager why both kinds are not available.

For the first time the California Hass variety with the pebbly skin will be available throughout the season. The green pebbly skin turns purplish-black when ripe and ready to eat. It represents 70 percent of the new crop.

To complement the Hass, through February you can also expect to see green, smooth-skinned avocados, such as the Fuerte, Zutano, Bacon, and Pinkerton varieties. These will account for 27 percent of the crop.

In spring and summer, the California Reed avocados - smooth and green but more round in shape - will be available. The taste is similar to the Hass variety with its rich flavor and velvety texture.

This fruit used to be called alligator pear, although there seems to be no authority on how the name came about. Some avocados grow best in tropical areas, where alligators are expected to lurk. Also, the skin of some varieties have a rough surface, perhaps suggesting an alligator's skin. Both ideas, however, seem rather far-fetched.

When shopping, remember that the outside of the smooth, green-skinned varieties do not turn a blackish-purple when ripe. They retain their emerald green color on the outside. If the fruit gives slightly to gentle pressure, that indicates ripeness.

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