Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Sunday, June 24, 2012

What Happened in La Habra Heights?

I have been going to the local Farmer’s Market most Fridays for the last several years and, as many of you probably already know, have formed close relationships with several of the growers and merchants.  There is Lisa, the Dry Dock Fish person, who saves Sand Dabs for me, and John, the Farmer, an ex-Marine who quotes inspirational axioms to me and most of his other customers, Marcia, the manager of the Market, the Noah Honey person, the Orchid man, Rachael, of Blackmarket Bakery with her delicious scones, and one of my all-time favorites, Jimmy who specializes in citrus and avocadoes.
A young Hass Avocado sprout
Last week I overheard Jimmy telling a customer about Hass Avocadoes and how they all came from one tree: a tree planted by a mailman in La Habra Heights, whose name was Rudolph Hass.  Hass was a simple man, born and raised in Milwaukee.  He dabbled in the ministry and moved to Pasadena in the early 1920s.  The story told by his grandchildren is that he saw a newspaper article demonstrating the money potential of raising avocados.  Since he was making twenty-five cents an hour as a mailman, he took a flyer and bought an acre and a half avocado grove.  The trees were Fuerte avocadoes which were much in fashion among the wealthy Pasadena population.

The original Hass Tree
In an effort to get his grove more productive, he cut many of the older trees and bought about a hundred seeds from A.R. Rideout, a professional grower.  Mr. Hass had some success grafting but felt the need for professional assistance, which he got from a professional grafter, Mr. Caulkins.  It took three years, but eventually all but one of the trees was producing Fuerte avocadoes.  Caulkins advised Hass to “wait and see” what that tree might do.  Within a few years the tree began bearing fruit, but not Fuerte fruit.  The Hass family found they preferred the new avocado, and began selling it from a roadside stand.  Soon, chefs were interested and eventually the tree itself became valuable.

Hass's Fallbrook Grove
Hass patented the tree in 1935, but purchasers soon found a way around the exclusivity of the sale of the tree and began grafting to their own trees.  By the 1970s the Hass avocado became the most popular and now accounts for more than 95% of California sales, only a few still come from the Fallbrook grove that started their commercial success.

I used to tell people in Iowa, where I grew up, that avocados had no taste.  I now know that they were shipped way too green and my mother was unaware that they should ripen before we ate them.  Like many foods, the flavor comes from the oil content, which needs time to develop. When I first moved to California as an adult, a family friend and his wife became surrogate parents for Mary and me in San Diego.  I remember Thelma Neff showing me her avocado tree, growing in a wheelbarrow and producing delicious avocadoes.

I have tried on several occasions to grow from a seed that had begun to sprout and subsequently I now have a six-foot tree on my deck that is healthy, but not fruit-bearing.  I also have two commercial Hass trees in varying degrees of health.  In spite of Thelma’s success, I am told avocadoes need to be in the ground.  I am in the process of replanting the largest and oldest tree across the street where my son lives.  Maybe then I can get some fruit.

In the meantime I buy from Jimmy, who picks and packages groups for me that allow me to have perfect fruit almost every day.  I read where Rudolph’s wife ate whole wheat toast with sliced avocado every day for breakfast, and she lived to be 98.  Longer than the original tree, which perished from some malady after 72 years.

Are any of you strong fans of avocadoes?  Drop me a comment and let me know.

My next post will share with you my meeting of a recently passed writing icon, Ray Bradbury, who I had the pleasure of seeing just a few years ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment