Avocados in the Levant


This (geo)graphic is another one of those orphaned pieces of World Wide Web data that is difficult to trace, but yet is still found on Wikipedia!

I was enjoying the cuisine at The Pita House in Old Towne Alexandria, VA today and had their avocado salad.  I didn’t even think about it when it was ordered, but when it showed up, I wondered whether my entire conception of the avocado’s natural history was wrong.  I thought it was of Mexico/Central American origins.  Could it be that it was, like citrus, of Meditteranean origins, transplanted to the New World by the Spanish?  Rather than interrupting lunch to search Wikipedia on my Blackberry (iPhone users, insert heckling here), I went all afternoon suffering from self-doubt.

First of all, the avocado salad was delicious.  I haven’t tried to replicate it yet, but I quickly did some  WWW forensic reconstruction of the dish based on similar recipes.  I will post an update once my wife and I (e.g., primarily my wife) have perfected it.  As best as I can tell, the ingredients are something like:

  •  2 Large Avocado — peeled and sliced into large chunks
  •  1/2 Cup green bell peppers – coarsely diced
  •  1/2 Cup tomatoes – coarsely diced
  •  1/2 Cup white onions –finely diced
  •  2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  •  2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
  •  Salt And Pepper — to taste
  •  2 Loaves Pita Bread – halved

Once I had the opportunity to consult Google, and the font of all knowledge returning the first link on nearly every topic – Wikipedia – I was able to confirm that indeed, the avocado did originate in current day Mexico/Central America.  That’s where the World Wide Web and/or the sad state of avocado scholarship began to fail me!  Let’s take, for instance, the following wikipedia paragraph.

P. americana, or the avocado, has a long history of being cultivated in Central and South America; a water jar shaped like an avocado, dating to A.D. 900, was discovered in the pre-Incan city of Chan Chan[1] though there is evidence of cultivation in Mexico for as long as 10,000 years.[2] The earliest known written account of the avocado in Europe is that of Martín Fernández de Enciso (c. 1470–c. 1528) in 1518 or 1519 in his book, Suma de Geografía que Trata de Todas las Partidas y Provincias del Mundo.[2][3] The first written record in English of the use of the word ‘avocado’ was by Hans Sloane in a 1696 index of Jamaican plants. The plant was introduced to Indonesia by 1750, Brazil in 1809, the Levant in 1908, and South Africa and Australia in the late 19th century.

Such precise dates!  This paragraph must be the totality of all knowledge on the subject since a pretty exhaustive search of the WWW turned up nothing other than links to Wikipedia entry, or outright plagiarism of this entry (other than this nice chronology which is restricted to the Spanish and American experience).

But, alas, the WWW fails me.  I can suppose that the avocado made it back to the Iberian peninsula near the time that Suma de Geografía que Trata de Todas las Partidas y Provincias del Mundo was published.  After that, its next destination was Indonesia?  Perhaps this is true, but the source that is used in the footnote (citation #2, which used to, but no longer exists at the end of the last sentence) offers a 404 Not Found, and is marked as an unreliable source.

So, I think that this is a pretty modern dish (as opposed to an age old, traditional Lebanese dish), if indeed the Wikipedia entry is correct in its assertion that avocados did not come to be cultivated in the Levant until 1908.  Hell, for all I know, the dish could be a really recent item by one of  Wolfgang Puck’s former Lebanese sou chef’s who runs a very popular restaurant in Beirut.

I would appreciate any intel that anyone has on how traditional this dish is.

BTW, the (geo)graphic of dubious origins (above) is a bubblemap – which apparently is a real cartographic “no-no”.  If you are interested in best practices in statistical cartography, you may want to read this entry.

BTW also, there is no bubble in Florida.  I believe this is a huge oversight.

UPDATE:  Oranges likely originated in SouthEast Asia, and weren’t introduced to the Mediterranean until around the 11th century…or something like that.  Though lemons originated in India, northern Burma and China, and were introduced to the Mediterranean in the first century A.D.   Wikipedia can’t help me out on limes but it looks similar to lemons. Grapefruit in Barbados.