Fresh almonds

I’ve just harvested my first crop of homegrown almonds. Well, it’s probably stretching it a little to describe 13 almonds as a “crop”, but given that my trees have only been in the ground for 18 months, I figure I’m lucky to get any at all.

I’ve put in 40 almond trees here – 10 each of four different varieties: ‘403’, ‘CY750’, ‘Fabrin’ and ‘Monovale’. (They have such romantic names!) Most of them are in our windswept orchard, but I planted the ‘Monovale’ trees on the sheltered bank below our house. It has proved to be a wise decision (which, to be honest, was actually born of laziness; I just couldn’t be bothered lugging the last bundle of bare-root trees down to the paddock) because the ‘Monovale’ trees are now at least twice as tall and twice as healthy as their compatriots. Plus, in early spring, all I can see from the downstairs bedroom window is a cloud of pink blossom. Almond blossoms leave cherries for dead. Unfortunately, that early blossom is both a blessing and a curse, as the flowers are frost-tender. Six severe frosts in a row last year wiped out any chance of a crop from our other varieties out in the open.

Fresh almonds, as you can see from the photo, look like small unripe peaches. Some varieties split open when they’re ripe to reveal the brown shell around the kernel inside, but ‘Monovale’ doesn’t seem to do that. So, a couple of weeks back, I picked a trial nut and left it on the kitchen windowsill to dry. The fleshy outer part of the fruit slowly shrank and shrivelled until I could peel it off the hard-shelled nut. I took to that with a sledgehammer (mental note to self: buy a nutcracker) today and – wow – out popped a perfectly formed almond. And – double wow! – the flavour was incredible. It was as sweet as marzipan and as marzipan-y as, well, marzipan Christmas cake icing. Which, incidentally, is one of my all-time favourite flavours. Here’s hoping that by this time next year, I’ll be able to make my own.

You can order almond trees from garden centres for winter planting. Waimea Nurseries supplies two recommended varieties for home gardens – the dwarf ‘Garden Prince’ and ‘All-in-One’. Find out more at their website.