Though avocado toast — the complicated culinary concoction in which mashed avocado is placed atop a piece of heated bread — is used as shorthand for everything that's wrong with the 2010s* boom time bubble, a Bay Area history buff reminds us that 90 years ago, the local paper of record was recommending it as a dish.
We can thank San Francisco Exploratorium programmer and visualization artist Eric Fischer for the Throwback Thursday memorandum. Fischer, a lauded social mapper and one of the only human beings on Twitter still worth following (it's basically just him and Officer Edith these days), is no stranger to archived print products, but his interests typically skew toward the urban-planny.
It appears, however, that he was driven into food tweeting by a Bon Appétit article entitled "Why Are We Still Talking About Avocado Toast?" In the piece, reporter John Birdsall traces present-day avocado toast's roots — again, let's be clear, we are talking about the process of smashing some avocado onto toasted bread, not the cure for smallpox — to Australia.
"There’s little doubt that modern avo toast—the Instagram kind—can trace its existence to that continent," Birdsall writes, as
In 1993 Sydney chef and restaurateur Bill Granger put a sexed-up version of avocado toast—with lime, salt, and chile flakes (the modern foundational recipe)—on the menu at Bills in Darlinghurst, near Sydney. In the new millennium, it jumped to New York City via Chloe Osborne, another Aussie, who became the consulting chef of Cafe Gitane in Greenwich Village. Her version was similarly Australian: a pebble-grained slice from a square loaf, toasted and covered in mashed avocado, diamond-cut and confetti-covered with crushed chile.
But, as Birdsall ably notes, avocado toast was actually consumed by SoCal residents sixty years before Australians started stealing all our acting jobs and starting present-day food trends.
A 1931 column in the Los Angeles Times announced that in the coffee shop of the swank Clark Hotel downtown, ladies “tired out from shopping” could refresh themselves with one of the “delightful luncheons,” only 50 cents. These included avocado on toast and “delicious coffee, iced or hot.”
But even in 1931, avocado toast wasn’t new. In 1920, in the Covina Argus, a newspaper from a town in the San Gabriel Valley, a writer named Martin Fesler gave his recipe for Avocado on Toast: “Remove the skin and mash with a fork. Spread thickly on a small square of hot toast. Add a little salt and pepper.” He called it one of the nicest ways of serving avocado.
By the time Genevieve A. Callahan wrote the Sunset All-Western Cook Book in 1933, avocado toast was worth describing in her section on avocados (she strains and seasons the pulp), though it didn’t warrant a formal recipe. The dish was just something you needed to know as a Southern Californian to deal with the excess fruit from your yard or with the bags the neighbor lugged over from hers.
Here's that Argus recipe, if you need even more instruction on how to add items to a slice of bread:
Also Covina Argus (California) December 10, 1920, page 11: pic.twitter.com/MRhirjZ84O— Mike Caulfield (@holden) July 21, 2017
And here's another one, reportedly from 1885!
That last one makes the Chron recipe fairly old news even by 1927, eh? So you've gotta wonder, will Fischer's much-retweeted reminder that avocado toast is nothing new somehow make people think twice about using "avocado toast" as a representative of all that is wrong with the present-day boom of Instagrammable coastal prosperity? Probably not, as the turn of that century had their own version of glossy but shallow prosperity: See The Great Gatsby, a 1925 novel about a mansion-dwelling millionaire whose fortune was a sham and who dies in the end. Yes, the same book that has recently inspired numerous tech company parties. What is it they say about people who don't remember the past?
*What are we calling the 2010s, anyway? I asked Jay, and he said "the 2010s, I guess." Is there a clever name for the period between 2010-2020 yet? In other news, I have a credit card that expires on 4/20 and that always makes me laugh. TGIF guys!