Produce of the Week - Almonds
sponsored by Coleman Farms
Almonds are nice any time of day, any day of the year, but seem to me to be specially linked to the festivities that bring the year to a close. They may appear in baked goods from breads to cookies, in various kinds of candy, including the mysterious Jordan almond, or they might turn up in stockings and as gifts, in or out of the shells, raw or toasted, or heavily modified - some would say disfigured - by processes such as deep frying and smoking. The natural flavor of mature almonds is maximized by very light toasting just before use (at 300-350 deg. F., watching carefully as they readily burn).
Like any 'nut' , the almond is a dense package of food value, mostly proteins and fats and since prehistory has been highly prized as a highly portable source of food with a long shelf life, which is also very good to eat. The almond also possesses particularly nice eating qualities, with a malleable texture that yields a bit more than a peanut yet doesn't crumble like a brazil or disintegrate like a walnut and, unlike these two, in not overtly oily. As the almond is chewed, the flavor develops from a generic nuttiness, adding tones of damp tree bark, rose and prune, reaching a fully developed flavor which can only be characterized as 'almond', followed by a finish suggestive of potpourri with a hint of the bitterness which predominates in the bitter variety of almond.
Almonds, like other nuts, are currently newsworthy because of claims that eating them does good things to the fats in the blood. Almonds also contain a useful amount of calcium, which is a nice property for almond milk to inherit. Almond oil has culinary uses, but is also used in traditional medicine as a vehicle for essential oils etc. and as a skin lubiricant.
There are several vendors at the Santa Barbara Farmers' Market who bring almonds from the San Jaoquin valley. You can find almonds in various states of preparation, and the ones you'll find now will be this year's crop, the natural ones probably still noticeably softer than almonds you may have bought mid-Summer. In other growing regions very young almonds are available in Spring, still encased in the green exocarp or 'fruit'. I haven't seen these in Santa Barbara, but if you're interested, now would be a good idea to talk to a vendor about them.