Panasonic Lumix DMC – FZ150
65 years ago or so, when I was a kid, I can remember searching in the toe of my Christmas stocking for almond nuts, and then patiently cracking each one with a nutcracker for the bounty to be found within. A once-a-year pleasure for a poor boy.
Today, I can buy them already cracked in a can or bag, and in just about any flavor my heart desires…..plain, smoked, salted, unsalted, garlic or bourbon flavored, oven roasted, yogurt or chocolate covered, ad infinitum. Still, no matter what is done to them, no matter how convenient the access to any quantity or flavor…..that once-a-year Christmas pleasure from long ago is the one that I always remember best.
Almonds grow on small deciduous trees (not bushes), which can grow to 30 feet tall and the nut or fruit matures in autumn about 7 to 8 months after flowering. Botanically speaking, the almond is a “drupe” not a nut, belongs to the rose family and is closely related to peaches and apricots. The fruit of an almond tree has an outer green leathery or fleshy hull called an exocarp, which is covered with a downy fuzz . Inside the hull is a hard woody shell (similar to a peach pit) called an endocarp. Inside the endocarp is an edible seed generally referred to as the nut.
Almonds have been cultivated by humans for about 4,000 years, and there are two types of trees. One is sweet and is edible, and the other is bitter and is inedible unless specially processed.
The sweet almond is used as food and in food products, as oil for lubricating delicate mechanisms and cosmetics, and for medicinal purposes. The shells are also used for fuel and can be ground up and added to cattle feed.
If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan, you know about the smell of almonds in victims poisoned by cyanide (refined prussic acid) from the bitter almond. Once processed, however, bitter almond oil is used as a food flavoring and product fragrances.
Approximately 1.7 million tons of almonds are produced worldwide each year. California produces about 80 percent of the world’s supply and 100 percent of the U.S. supply. If you wonder why there is such a concern about the collapse of bee colonies, almonds are pollinated by bees and I have read that close to one million hives are needed to pollinate California almond groves.
That’s probably more than you wanted to know about almonds, but I still relish my Christmas memory.