Almond Tree Growing Facts and Enjoying Almonds for the Holidays
Almond trees are relatives of both the plum and the peach, growing from 15 to 30 feet tall with branches just as wide. They will begin bearing nuts after only a short 3 years, but you won’t get full-scale production until the tree is about 12 years old. Your tree could well outlive you, as well as produce a great deal for 50 years, if properly cared for.
Sweet almonds like low humidity and a warm growing season, which is where California does well in these requirements. It is easiest to plant seeds in the fall in well-drained soil. Squirrels will dig these up, so put a staked cage around the plantings until they are growing well. Plant your shorter trees 20 feet apart, and don’t prune unless you really need to do so, as this will hamper nut production.
Nuts will be ready to harvest in August or September. The outer hulls will split open when ripe. When most of the hulls in the mid-portion of the tree have split, strike the tree with a heavy rubber mallet. This will avoid damaging the wood and bark. Directly after harvest, shell and dry the almonds to prevent mildew. Dry the nuts in a partially shaded area and leave until the nut is crunchy. Then store in airtight containers in a cool place until ready to use.
Now for what you have all been waiting for, the valuable recipes. Have fun with these, especially during any holiday.
This will allow you to get the brown skin off the nut. Pour boiling water over the nuts and let them stand 5-10 minutes, or until the skins wrinkle. Drain the water. Then slide off the skins by squeezing the nut between your fingers. If some won’t come off, do another boiling water bath, then allow them to dry when skinned.
Cook almonds in frying pan(blanched or unblanched), with 2 or 3 tablespoons hot oil. Stir until evenly browned, then drain. If you like, sprinkle them with salt. Nuts can also be baked in the oven at 350 degrees F for 5-12 minutes. Stir occasionally while they are baking.
Place nuts on cookie sheet in 350 degree F oven until golden brown, about 5 minutes. You could mix in a tablespoon melted butter and a teaspoon salt per pound of almonds and bake until lightly browned and crispy. Stir often. A third option is on the stovetop. First blanche, then heat butter in a small pan over low heat. Add nuts and fry for 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Drain on paper towels.
Make this a week before you need it, as the paste improves with a little storage. Grind in a mortar, a chopper, or a blender: shelled, skinned, and dried unroasted almonds. If you need to do so, run them through the grinder a few times to get them very fine. For every 2 cups almonds, dissolve a cup of sugar in ½ cup orange juice, and then mix well with almonds.
Blanche a half pound of almonds and pound them to paste with a mortar. Even put them through a grinder several times set on fine. You can even use a blender, if you have one. Add a half pound powdered sugar and 2 stiffly beaten egg whites. Work it all together, then form balls about the size of a whole nutmeg. Bake at 250 degrees F until golden.
Macaroons with Almond Paste
Use a half pound of almond paste, and gradually add ¾ cup sugar with 3 beaten egg whites. Mix well, then add ¼ cup powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons flour. Place by teaspoonful onto a paper lined cookie sheet. Flatten shapes a bit. Bake at 250 to 300 degrees F for approximately 30 minutes.
Mix a cup of almond paste, a cup powdered sugar, and ½ teaspoon vanilla or orange extract. Knead about 20 minutes, then set on a cookie rack to dry. After drying, you can shape it into any forms that you’d like, or use marzipan molds that can be purchased at kitchen specialty stores.
After drying your molded shapes at least overnight, paint them with food coloring using a small paintbrush. You can even dip them like you would an Easter egg. Allow to dry. Feel free to use accessories, like cloves for apple stems, and angelica bits can be used for leaves.
Leave the shapes covered with heavy syrup for 8 hours. To make syrup, cook 5 pounds of sugar with 2 ½ cups water to the soft ball stage, which is 234 to 240 degrees F. Remove syrup from heat and allow to cool. Add marzipan in a single layer. It is important throughout this step to avoid disturbing the syrup as much as possible. Then drain to candies and allow them to dry once again.
I'm not sure if anyone would be interested, but there are recipes out there for almond puff pastry that are pretty easy to make...any takers?
© 2012 Deb Hirt