Those of you who know me may know that I have a keen interest in genetics and love to do research on my own family history. I've even had my DNA tested so I would have a better understanding of where my ancestors originally may have come from. So it may not come as a surprise that I've more recently been wondering about the ancestry of the almond since I use them so much in our recipes. We nod our head and say, "Why California of course!" since California supplies 80% of overseas demand and virtually 100% of domestic supply but if you did say California you would be wrong! It turns out these little tasty and healthy beauties may have originated in the Mediterranean. We see them referenced in early Greek medical texts, and described in Italy as the nuptial nut since they were wrapped in tulle and given in wedding ceremonies. Explorers ate almonds while traveling the Silk Road between the Mediterranean, and central and eastern Asia. Before long, almond trees were found in many different cultures, from Asia to Persia and beyond.
Our American Almond story begins with Franciscan Friars who first brought the almond tree seeds from Spain to California in the mid-18th century and by the late 20th century, almonds were firmly established in the Sacramento and San Joaquin areas of California’s Central Valley. Almond trees take nearly 5 years to produce fruit and live for an average of 25 years!
Now here is the little surprise I have for you in a nutshell. Did you know that the almond is not a member of the nut family at all but rather a member of the stone fruit family and most closely related to the peach?! Cousins also include cherries, plums and nectarines! So does that make it a nutty fruit or a fruity nut?
And here's more! Inside the pit of the peach, lies a bitter almond- it looks like an almond and when crushed smells like an almond (don't eat it because it could make you sick until you cook it) but guess what- when you steep it with liquid this pit gives you a deeper flavor of almond with a touch of peach- extraordinary!
Almond trees have to be bee pollinated so at least 2 varieties grown in close proximity to each other are required. In California one of the biggest orchestrated annual bee pollinations takes place in February at Blue Diamond Orchards. Bees from all over the country are shipped in just to pollinate them!
The almond fruit lays claim to many health benefits and I'll get into some of those on my next blog post. Meanwhile I hope you all enjoyed your celebration of America's 244th birthday!