By Heidi Trautmann
The almond tree is a tree of Cyprus, belonging to the family of roses, plums, cherries and peaches, I read, and under one of such trees in our garden I was sitting one morning in late July, before the sun came up from behind the Eastern hills. The early morning noises announcing a new day, the neighbour’s cockerel, some early birds but nothing else, just the light softly growing with the sun rising and painting the foliage with bright colours while the soft wind comes up from the sea making the light stirring and dancing.
A tradition for us already, getting the long ladders out, some buckets and a chair for me to sit on and un-shell the fruit my husband was picking. The green shells of the almonds have just popped open and before they fall down and are left for the ants and worms, we pick them. It does not prevent the ants from climbing the trees and feeding on them while they are still fresh, so you rather be quick.
I love this manual work, feeling the fruit in my hands and the value of it; it gives me a superior feeling, of being autarky, whom do I need, really, as long as I have a piece of land, what can happen to me. Sort of a pride. And it gives me room to think, impulses to go to the roots of it.
A fruit tree of the ancient world, first grown in Minor Asia and North Africa, known to be one of the best fruit trees in the land of Canaan, and, over the times with the never ending journey of culture, carried around the Mediterranean and to its neighbouring countries, also to England, if I can believe the stories and poems of the middle ages. A fruit used for many recipes in international cuisines, for beauty recipes, oils and milks, the branches with blossoms used for signs of peace and welcome, just like the olive tree.
The almond tree has its own curriculum vitae. End of January it spreads the news of creation coming to life again with white clouds of blossoms all over the country, we have eight of them in our garden, and for me it is the most beautiful moment of the young year. Then, when the young fruit is growing, there is a moment you have to be aware of passersby who might pick them and eat them as a whole, with the green mantle and everything, a delicacy for many. The fruit, I mean the very inner core is in that state still fluid, and everything around it soft.
Then comes a moment when the core gets firm and a timid skin builds up, that is the moment we like the fruit best, we open the green mantle, remove the skin and eat the fresh and delicious kernel. But be careful, too much of them will cause you pain. 6-10 are fine at a time. I know of people who pick them and deepfreeze them to use them later in the year. Peeled young almonds on ice are a delicacy in every good Cypriot restaurant.
Most of all we like to sit under the wide branches of the almond tree after the day’s work has been done, to meet friends for a cold drink, a Sumada which is a syrup made from almonds, or perhaps an almond liqueur, and when it is still early in the year, rise from the seat and grab a handful of young almonds. Nothing is more satisfying.
After the harvesting we leave the fruit for a day or two to dry and then I store them. Over the year I use them for cakes, or I love to season fish steaks with freshly ground almonds. And also, there is no better present to take along to friends than fresh almonds since almonds stand for peace and friendship. So, if you want to win a friend, take some almonds with you.