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Avocados might be the perfect food. They're fatty, but with the good fat, sweet but also nutty, creamy but not mushy -- simply one of the best things to ever grow from a tree. It's no wonder Americans ate 4.25 billion avocados last year (yes, that's billion with a b), making it the most consumed fruit in America.
So if you've ever dipped a chip in to guacamole, grabbed a handful of Hass in the supermarket, or slathered a sun-ripened avocado over your morning toast, you've got one man to thank. No, he's not a farmer, marketer, or botanist, he's a judge: Santa Barbara, California's own Judge R.B. Ord, the man who first permanently introduced avocados in the U.S., way back in 1871.
A native of Washington, D.C., Ord arrived in California in 1849, shortly after the state came under American control. He first worked as a rancher but left the cows and sheep behind to pursue a less physically demanding career as a judge -- that is, when he wasn't organizing vigilance committees against bands of desperadoes.
But more than his ranching, jurisprudence, or love for his wife Eliza and their eight children, Judge Ord is remembered for one great achievement: the successful introduction of avocados to the United States.
In 1871, Judge Ord traveled to Mexico, where he fell so in love with avocado, or ahuacuatl as they were known, that he brought three saplings back to California with him. One died, but the two others turned out to be remarkably suited to the southern California climate. They went on to produce years of fruit, and plenty of saplings, firmly establishing avocados in the United States for the first time.
In French, avocat means both lawyer and avocado, so maybe it's not surprising that a judge played a central role in popularizing the fruit. (The English word isn't too far from the Spanish abogado, for lawyer, either, but the English name actually comes from aguacate.)
But, of course, Judge Ord wasn't solely responsible for sending avocados trending.
The fruit had long been a staple in Mesoamerica, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years. Spanish conquistadors loved the things, and George Washington is even rumored to have eaten one once.
In spring of 1926, the postman Rudolph Hass would plant an avocado tree that would give birth to Hass avocados, the variety of fruit he patented and which now account for the vast majority of avocados consumed in the U.S. (That tree lived until 2002, when it died of root rot.) Extensive P.R., a changing palate, and relaxed trade restrictions on Mexican avocados would all contribute to the fruit's continuing success in recent years.
But Judge Ord's crops were the first to stick, helping establish the industry in the U.S.
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