No I’m not making candy bars (but I do love Almond Joys if you’re wondering).
For this What’s Cooking Wednesday, I want to tell you a little more about another of southern Italy’s major crops, the glorious mandorla, or as we know it, the almond.
History of Almonds
Almonds have been around quite a long time, making guest appearances in the Bible and Greek mythology among other ancient texts. One of the most popular uses of the almond in ancient times was to prevent intoxication, which is why they were often eaten throughout meals during Plutarch’s day.
Almond trees are native to the Mediterranean region from the Middle East on over; here in southern Italy, almond trees are all over the place, so it’s not surprising that we love and use the almond early and often.
Health Benefits of Almonds
Almonds are one of the healthiest foods around as they can lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol as well as the risks of diabetes and heart and cardiovascular diseases. They may also help you lose and maintain a healthy weight, increase your energy level, and prevent gallstones. Read more about the health benefits of almonds at The World’s Healthiest Foods.
The Almond in Calabria
A common drink in Calabria and southern Italy throughout the summer is latte di mandorla or almond milk; almonds release their oils when crushed, and when mixed with milk, make a lovely, refreshing beverage. Many people also add sugar.
You will also find that many southern Italian dolci, sweets and desserts, contain almonds–my favorite are amaretti; and if you’re the drinking kind, how about some Amaretto Disaranno Originale? Yum!
And of course we all know of the tradition of giving sugared-coated almonds at weddings and other celebrations.
Not convinced of our passion for the almond yet?
We love the seed of the fruit of the almond tree so much around here, there is even a Calabrese song called Facci de n’ammendula mundata that sings its praises; the singer insists that if offered a pile of gold that weighs more than the almond, he would choose the almond because although the gold will eventually be spent, the beauty of the almond will stay with him forever.
Well a few weeks ago when we were down in the garden with the pooches, P picked some almonds fresh off the tree, still in the green furry casings as seen above.
Throughout this post, you can see the process of shelling a fresh almond; after the above photo, P peeled the outer, yellow casing:
And here is the final result in my waiting hand:
Biting into a fresh almond reminded me a lot of crunching a water chestnut: crisp and clean. But then came the gentle flavor of almond and a slightly stronger aftertaste–a lovely, sweet reminder that I had just eaten something fresh, pure, and straight from our tree. Nothing bitter about it.
So what are you going to do with your almonds? I suggest:
- Banana Coconut Almond Bread from Susan at Food Blogga
- Easy Almond Brioche from Susan at Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy
- Polenta Olive Oil Almond Cake with Peaches in Honey-Basil Syrup from Jenn at The Left Over Queen
And by the way, all of these would go great with a Caffè Shakerato alla Cherrye!
Do you like almonds? What’s your favorite way to enjoy them?