Almonds, picked with our own hands from our very own tree, sea salted and roasted with a drizzle of olive oil.
Vacation should be full of fabulous culinary moments preparing and sharing unfamiliar foods from a faraway place. I’ve had many of these moments throughout my life, but there’s one that takes the cake and I’m blissful it happened during my recent visit to the western Algarve.
While swimming laps in the pool, I spotted an almond tree on the property of our vacation villa. The tree was bursting with nuts, protected by a hard beige shell and tucked within soft velvety casings open like freshly steamed clams. There was the perfectly ripened snack just waiting to be plucked. My kids were thrilled at my discovery and eagerly began picking several dozen, twisting the nuts off of the knotty branches of the tree one by one.
But what to do with our freshly picked stash? Should we eat them raw? (I had heard that almonds could be poisonous eaten raw.) Should we blanch them? Roast? What decisions to have to make while vacationing.
We were saved by our friend Celia, the garden’s caretaker and to our good fortune, the daughter of an almond farmer. Not surprisingly, she was an expert nut cracker and demonstrated a simple method to crack them open. First find a good sized rock, then turn the almond on its side and use the rock to crack the fatter end, giving it one or two good whacks. Throughout our nut-cracking lessons, Celia debunked my raw-almonds-are-poison theory, eating a few to illustrate her point. We also chatted about various ways we could cook them — sun drying, blanching or roasting.
We decided upon a quick 15 minute roast in a 400 degree oven and generously seasoned our almonds with olive oil and salt. They were devoured hot and in less than a minute, all while we were plotting ways to snatch the almonds from the taller branches to make another batch.
It was an unforgettable time together, hunting, gathering and preparing food with a happy communal bunch. If you’re lucky enough to rent a house with an almond tree I suggest you give it a try!