Most Danes regard almonds as a luxury, but in south Italy growing almonds is so commonplace, the trees have almost lost their attraction.
“What on earth do you do with all those almonds?” and “Do you really like ‘old’ almonds?” are some of the questions Italians ask, when they see me packing buckets of home grown almonds to take to Denmark. The almonds Danes regard as a luxury, are by many South Italians seen as filler, something that grows so abundantly that it has lost attraction. Even if you grind almonds to flour, hide them in almond cakes, disguise them as marzipan or drown them in salsa, you will still have some to spare at the end of the season. There are simply too many. And the Italians, I know, would not dream of eating salted or sugared almonds as a snack, unless they are given as presents at a wedding.
The only form of almonds appreciated are fresh green nuts, picked and eaten directly from trees in June and July. At that time of year the nut is wrapped in a thick, fruity skin, that is hairy and light green on the outside. Inside the green skin there’s a hard brown shell. And inside the shell you will find a fine, white, almond, which must be placed in water, if you want to prevent it from turning brown and developing a peel. With years’ practice and a well-placed knock with a hammer, you can split open the skin and shell, so the almonds can be pried out with the fingers, and then you can serve a bowl of fresh almonds as dessert after dinner. Just remember that green almonds cannot be preserved.
The almonds, sold in Northern Europe, are harvested in Italy in August, when they are mature and the green skin has dried and shrunk. They are the ones that have to be collected, cleaned and stored for later use in rice puddings, salty snacks and sumptuous chocolate cakes using almonds as a replacement for wheat flour. But before you start cooking, there is a lot of hard work with the nutcracker. Almond self-sufficiency may save some money, but it definitely requires an effort.
Growing almonds and other notes on gardening