Is there an avocado shortage? In Austin, hardly

The annual holiday food shortage-that’s-not-really-a-shortage is back, just in time for Cinco de Mayo.

(Before we go any further: Whatever you do this Cinco de Mayo, make sure you’re visiting this cultural appropriation checklist. It’s one thing to know about the history of Cinco de Mayo and drink a margarita (or make some guac) to celebrate the amazing cultural diversity of this country, and another to call it “Cinco de Drinko” and turn Mexican culture into a caricature.)

MORE: Quiz: How much do you know about Cinco de Mayo?

Back to the avocado business: As you’ve probably seen all over the news this week, there’s an avocado shortage this year, thanks to it being an off year for the crops in Mexico and California.

Central Market has plenty of avocados earlier this week. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Avocados are “alternate-bearing crops, with large harvests one year and smaller ones the next,” Bloomberg reported a few days ago, and this is the year when the crop is smaller. Americans are eating more than seven pounds of avocados a year, up from only a pound in 1989, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

Seven pounds of avocados is a lot, especially considering that includes people who don’t eat avocados at all or who live in parts of the country where they aren’t as readily available.

Guacamole isn’t the only way we eat our seven pounds of avocado a year. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

In Texas, that number has to be higher, thanks to the prevalence of guacamole and, yes, avocado toast. On Cinco de Mayo, lots of Texans will be scooping out that bright green avocado flesh. It’s the second-highest avocado consumption day, right behind the Super Bowl.

EVENTS: Celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Austin with these events

Although we very well could be seeing an avocado shortage in other parts of the country, it’s hard to find signs of it in Austin. I visited half a dozen grocery stores this week, and all of them had lots of avocados at reasonable prices.

Despite a comment from a store representative from H-E-B who said their avocado costs were running higher because of “growing conditions and weather events” (note: that’s not the “alternative-bearing” year reason given in the initial stories), they don’t seem to be passing the cost along to consumers, at least as of Wednesday and Thursday.

To find out how much avocado flesh is in both the small and large Hass avocados, I weighed them whole and without the seed and skin. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Both Central Market and H-E-B had plenty of cases of avocados at regular prices: 68 cents for the smaller avocados and $1.78 for the larger. (That’s the typical price, unless they are on sale for 50 cents/$1.50.)

Shortage averted, I decided to answer a question I’ve always had: How many small avocados are in a big one? As in, is there a cost savings if I buy two or three small of the small ones instead of a big one, or vice versa?

I got out my kitchen scale to find out. It turns out that the seeds of both of my samples weighed the same amount: 31 grams. The smaller one, minus the seed and skin, was just over 100 grams, exactly half of the amount of bright green creamy flesh contained in the bigger one.

The takeaway: At 68 cents, you can buy two avocados for $1.36 and save yourself 40 cents for the same amount of avocado. 

Small avocados (left) have about half as much flesh as the larger one, but cost about a third of the price, making them more economical if you are making guacamole. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

There’s one caveat, however: Frequent avocado buyers know that that quality of the smaller avocados is less assured. Even though both are usually Hass avocados, the larger ones tend to be higher in quality.

When you’re making guacamole, quality matters, but because the dish is all smashed together, it’s easier to hide imperfections, so for my money, you can go with the small avocados and save a bit of money.

Since I was working with avocados, I decided to do a side-by-side taste comparison of the H-E-B prepared guacamole and Good Foods’ sealed tableside chunky guacamole.

In a taste best between H-E-B’s prepared guacamole and the Good Foods’ sealed prepared product that’s available in many stores, we liked the Good Foods’ brand because it had a less-overwhelming taste of lime. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

They were the same cost for the same amount and a nearly exact ingredient deck. However, when we pulled out our chips, it became clear that the H-E-B guacamole had significantly more lime juice. Too much for our liking, especially when eaten right after the more balanced Good Foods’ guacamole.


El Milagro closes iconic Sixth Street location, moves one block north

El Milagro, the popular chip and tortilla-maker that is based in Chicago but has deep roots in Austin, has closed its longtime location on East Sixth Street to move to another space at 905 E. Seventh St.

El Milagro has had a location on East Sixth Street for many years, and it recently moved one block north to East Seventh Street. Matthew Odam / American-Statesman

The Sixth Street store closed about three weeks ago, according to an employee in the store, and just like the old space, the new location carries fresh masa, tortillas and various kinds of chips and tostadas, all of which are made at a San Marcos production facility.

The new El Milagro on East Seventh sells the same masa, tortillas and chips as the location on East Sixth. Matthew Odam / American-Statesman

The East Austin store is open from Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. 4:30 p.m., Saturday from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

I’m trying to find out a little more about the history of the Sixth Street space. If you have any details or memories of the tortilleria, let me know by emailing or calling 512-912-2504.

El Milagro chips are known as some of the best in Central Texas, and you can buy them by the big bag at the retail location at 905 E. Seventh St. Matthew Odam / American-Statesman





New Sweden Lutheran Church celebrates May with traditional Swedish dinner, maypole

Swedish meatballs, lingonberry jam and open-faced sandwiches are staples of Swedish culture and cuisine, and despite the thousands of Swedes who settled in Central Texas, it can be hard to find those foods outside IKEA these days.

RELATED: Exploring Swedish heritage through a midsummer feast at Ikea 

Ancestry trip to Sweden leads to new flavors, culinary discoveries

But on May 6, the communities of Carlson, Kimbro, Lund and Manda will gather at the New Sweden Lutheran Church in Manor for the New Sweden Heritage Center’s fourth annual Heritage Day May Fest.

The New Sweden Lutheran Church outside Manor will host a Swedish Heritage Day on May 6. Contributed by New Sweden Church

Starting at 3 p.m. Saturday at the church at 12809 New Sweden Church Road, descendants of the Swedes who settled the area, as well as Swedish ex-pats and others with an affinity for Scandinavian culture, will enjoy a maypole, silent auction and a traditional Swedish meal, followed by a program in the sanctuary at 6 p.m.

Tickets for the meal are $15 for adults and $8 for children ages 4 to 9, and you can buy them no later than Wednesday by calling the church office at 512-281-0056.

What’s the most Texas dish to celebrate Texas Independence Day?

There’s a movement afoot to change Texas’ official dish from chili to tacos.

This Missouri transplant certainly eats tacos more than chili, but I also enjoy my chili with beans and am still learning to say “fixin to” instead of “getting ready to.”

MORE: No fighting about breakfast tacos allowed in ‘Tacos of Texas’

I have, however, become super interested in food and Texas history since I moved here in 2005, including Texas Independence Day, which is today. (Here’s how/where to celebrate.)

Texas sheet cake, King Ranch chicken, Frito pie and Texas caviar are some of the state-specific foods I learned about when I arrived, and I’ve had fun profiling over Texas food history overs over the years.

K.R. Wood makes chili at his Manchaca home. KR Wood, a singing cowboy historian from Manchaca who teaches kids about Texas history through chuckwagon cooking, makes chili over a fire. 02.18. 2014 LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN 022614 relish austin
KR Wood, a singing cowboy historian from Manchaca who teaches kids about Texas history through chuckwagon cooking, makes chili over a fire.

There was this singing cowboy, who was probably my favorite.

Celebrating Texas Independence Day with a singing chuck wagon cook who knows his history

Last year, Jessica Dupuy published a “United Tastes of Texas” cookbook that included enough Texas recipes to keep you busy for a year.

King Ranch chicken is one of the classic Texas recipes from Jessica Dupuy's "United Tastes of Texas" cookbook. Photos from Southern Living
King Ranch chicken is one of the classic Texas recipes from Jessica Dupuy’s “United Tastes of Texas” cookbook. Photos from Southern Living

King Ranch Chicken

Hailing from an era when casseroles were king, this Tex-Mex addition reigns supreme as the staple dish for church suppers and neighborhood potlucks. Though not an invention of the famed King Ranch — it’s more likely the invention of a Junior League member — the spicy flavors of chili powder, roasted peppers and cumin never fail to please.

— Jessica Dupuy

Vegetable cooking spray
6 Tbsp. butter
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup chopped poblano peppers (about 2 medium peppers)
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1 (10-oz.) can diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained
1 1/2 cups sour cream
2 lb. Smoked Chicken (recipe follows), coarsely chopped (about 5 cups)
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
18 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1/4 cup canola oil
For garnish: chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 13-inch-by-9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and next 3 ingredients; sauté 8 to 10 minutes or until tender and lightly browned. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper and cook 1 minute.

Sprinkle flour over vegetable mixture and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Whisk in broth and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil 1 to 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat. Add tomatoes and sour cream.

Stir together chicken and cilantro; stir in vegetable mixture until blended. Combine cheeses in a small bowl.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Lightly brush each tortilla on both sides with oil. Cook tortillas, in batches, in hot skillet until lightly browned and crisp on both sides.

Line bottom of prepared baking dish with 6 tortillas, overlapping slightly, to cover bottom of dish. Top with half of chicken mixture and 1/3 of cheese. Repeat layers once. Top with remaining tortillas and cheese. Lightly coat a sheet of aluminum foil with cooking spray and cover baking dish.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 more minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned on top. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with cilantro. Serves 12.

— From “United Tastes of Texas: Authentic Recipes from All Corners of the Lone Star State” by Jessica Dupuy (Oxmoor House, $24.95)

Smoked Chicken

Piloncillo is a raw sugar made from reduced cane juice. It’s sold molded into cone shapes and is sometimes labeled panela. To measure, place the cone in a zip-top plastic freezer bag and pound it with a meat mallet to break it apart.

— Jessica Dupuy

3 to 4 oak, hickory or pecan wood chunks
1 cup firmly packed piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar), about 1 (8-oz.) cone (can substitute dark brown sugar)
1 Tbsp. ancho chili powder
1 Tbsp. table salt
1 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 (3 3/4- to 4-lb.) whole chickens

Soak wood chunks in water to cover 1 hour.

Meanwhile, combine piloncillo and next 3 ingredients in a small bowl. Rub chickens with piloncillo mixture and let stand 30 minutes.

Prepare smoker according to manufacturer’s directions. Place water pan in smoker; add water to depth of fill line. Bring internal temperature to 225 degrees to 250 degrees and maintain temperature 15 to 20 minutes.

Drain wood chunks, and place on coals. Place chickens on food cooking grate; close smoker. Smoke 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until a meat thermometer inserted into thickest portion of thighs registers 165 degrees.

Remove chickens from smoker and let stand 20 minutes before slicing. Serves 12.

— From “United Tastes of Texas: Authentic Recipes from All Corners of the Lone Star State” by Jessica Dupuy (Oxmoor House, $24.95)

Secret ingredient to these cakelike cookies? Nostalgia (and ricotta)

Sue Dorrance from Round Rock surprised us with her mom’s ricotta cookies.

Sue Dorrance's mother made these ricotta cookies for many years, and now she's carrying on the tradition. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman
Sue Dorrance’s mother made these ricotta cookies for many years, and now she’s carrying on the tradition. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

“These were a staple back when I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Every bridal shower, every baby baptism featured these cookies,” she says. “When I eat these, I think of all the people who enjoyed these cookies with me over the years.”

Like many Italian ricotta cookies, this one has a somewhat cakelike consistency, and they aren’t very sweet, but they are just right with the royal icing on top. Dorrance is a librarian at Stony Point High School, and she tints the icing with blue and gold when she makes these cookies for the softball team. “I am their super fan,” she wrote in her submission.

Joan White’s Ricotta Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 cups sugar
1 lb. ricotta cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp. vanilla
4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
For the icing:
1 lb. powdered sugar
3 Tbsp. milk, plus more for thinning icing
Food coloring, as desired

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Using standing mixer, if possible, blend butter and sugar. Add cheese, blend well. Add beaten eggs and vanilla and mix until blended. Mix in flour, 1 cup at a time; add baking soda and salt with the first cup of flour.

Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls on greased cookie sheet — they will spread a bit. Bake 15 minutes or until edges just begin to brown. (You can check the bottom of a cookie; it should be golden but not brown.)

For the icing: Blend powdered sugar with 3 Tbsp. milk. If necessary, add more milk, a little at a time, to make a spreadable consistency, but not so thin as to be a glaze. Add food coloring as desired, and spoon a little on top of each cooled cookie. Depending on size of cookie, this recipe can make 4 dozen or more cookies.

— From Sue Dorrance

5 Days of Scandinavia: Falling in love with IKEA food all over again (except the veggie balls)

These heart-shaped waffles are some of our favorite items from the IKEA store in Round Rock. Photo by Julian Knox-Broyles.
These heart-shaped waffles are some of our favorite items from the IKEA store in Round Rock. Photo by Julian Knox-Broyles.

For a few years now, I’ve been fascinated with IKEA’s role in Texas-Swedish culture.

The home furnishing giant, which started in Sweden in 1943 and opened its first Texas store in 2005, flourished in the U.S. more than 100 years after Swedish immigrants started settling here.

Swedes were hugely influential in Central Texas starting in the mid-1800s, and many of the streets, parks and landmarks, especially in Williamson County, are named after Swedish settlers. Even Austin Bergstrom International Airport is named after a Swede.

Yet we eat kolaches and not kanelbullar.

Not to say that Czech culture in Texas isn’t equally as important or worth preserving, but Texas-Czech culture is thriving in a way that Texas-Swedish culture is not. There is a Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in Austin, and Swedes in Elgin and New Sweden host mid-summer and St. Lucia celebrations, but for the most part, Austinites don’t see evidence of Swedish influence on Texas in the same way that we see German and Czech influences, especially when it comes to food.

Except when you go to IKEA.

At a midsummer celebration a few years ago, I was blown away to see so many Swedish expats, Swedish-Texans or people who just have an interest in Swedish culture gathering to eat Jansson’s Temptation (a creamy potato casserole) and sip on lingonberry soda.

Once I saw IKEA through a different lens, I started to love going there, specifically to buy food from the small grocery market near the exit. Right before my trip to Sweden, I stopped by IKEA to stock up on meatballs, cinnamon rolls, pear soda and lingonberry jam so that my kids, who were staying with my parents in Missouri, could have a taste of Scandinavia while I was gone.

Two weeks later, on the way home from picking them up after I returned, we stopped by IKEA again to drop another $60 on Swedish food. Call it an at-home souvenir.

In that shopping trip, I picked up several new food items I hadn’t tried before, including the vegetable balls that IKEA launched in 2015 and a boxed multigrain bread mix.

veggieballsI tried the veggie balls during this week’s Facebook livestream — I do these every Wednesday at noon — and as you can see, I was not a fan. At the store, they serve the veggie balls with an Indian-spiced sweet potato sauce that might improve their flavor, but when simply baked in the oven, they tasted like pea paste studded with pieces of corn and bell peppers. I’ve had a few people tell me they like these veggie balls, but maybe I just don’t love the taste of peas enough to like them.

Or maybe I love their regular meatballs too much to be able to fairly judge them.

The second new product was this multi-grain baking mix that comes in what looks like a square milk carton. I had this bread several times in Sweden, where it is generally called seeded rye bread. The mix has wheat and rye flours, wheat and rye flakes, sunflower seeds, linseed, malt and yeast, and to make it, you pour hot water directly in the carton, close it up and shake the heck out of it for 45 seconds. Pour the batter into a bread pan, let rise for 45 minutes and then bake at 400 degrees for 60 minutes.

I should have pulled the loaf out after about 50 minutes because it’s extra crusty on top and a little too chewy on the edges, but in general, this is a good approximation of the dense, hearty bread you’ll find served with hard-boiled eggs, salmon, tiny shrimp or ham for breakfast, lunch or fika, the afternoon snack.

What are we doing with the rest of the haul? Making elderflower kombucha, celebrating the end of the school week with the sparkling pear cider and trying to limit our intake of the chocolate heart cookies and the heart-shaped waffles. (I already finished the package of dill gravlax.)

What do you like from the IKEA restaurant or food store? Where are the hidden pockets of Swedish culture that I’ve been looking for? Have a good recipe for Swedish meatballs to share?

IKEA now sells a box of multigrain bread mix. All you have to do is add hot water to the box and shake to mix. Bake for about an hour at 400 degrees. Photo by Addie Broyles.
IKEA now sells a box of multigrain bread mix. All you have to do is add hot water to the box and shake to mix. Bake for about an hour at 400 degrees. Photo by Addie Broyles.



How a Texas newspaperman’s invention led to creation of Key lime pie

A poster for an early version of Borden's condensed milk. Image via WikiCommons.
A poster for an early version of Borden’s condensed milk. Image via WikiCommons.

Does Gail Borden Jr.’s name ring a bell?

You’ve probably seen the Borden brand of milk in stores, but Borden’s legacy goes even deeper than that. Borden was a New Yorker who found his way to Texas in the years before the Alamo. He and his brother ran a newspaper outside what is now the Houston area during the Texas Revolution. He got involved in politics during the Republic of Texas era, serving several roles under Sam Houston, but by the middle of the century, he’d started developing food products, including a dried meat biscuit that never took off.

However, after a journey across the Atlantic in which the cows on the ship got sick and died — and sickened children who drank the milk — Borden set out to find a new way to preserve milk. In 1856, he was awarded a patent for condensing milk through a vacuum process, and by the late 1850s, he had left Texas and was back in the Northeast, where he started the New York Condensed Milk Company, which provided millions of pounds of condensed milk to troops during the Civil War.

According to Key lime pie historian David Sloan, Borden’s shelf-stable and calorie-dense creation was a humanitarian effort to ease malnutrition and increase food safety, but it was also a boon to the Florida Keys, where refrigeration, ice and just about anything made with milk were hard if not impossible to come by until the Overseas Highway connected the islands to mainland Florida in 1930.

Canned milk allowed people living in the Keys to make ice cream and cream sauces. Key limes were abundant on the islands, so it was only a matter of time before cooks combined the two to create a pie that had silky smooth filling without a drop of quick-to-spoil milk or cream.

Nowadays, every corner store in the country carries fresh milk, and some of our refrigerators are the size of small cars. But I think there’s still something charming about taking the road well-traveled and starting dessert by whipping out your can opener.

RELATED: How to make Key lime pie-inspired margarita pies

The company eventually became Eagle Brand, and though the milk distribution company that now bears his name is not affiliated with any of Borden’s original companies, his name and legacy continue in surprising ways. For example, Borden County in West Texas, and its county seat of Gail, were posthumously named after him, even though he never set foot in that part of the state.