Now that the cold spell seems truly over, I remember why I love this time of the year so much. The light is clear and crisp, with that “born again” quality that makes images sharp and colours fresh and vibrant as if in gratitude for the easing of the bitter cold. The almond trees are in full bloom, enchanting with delicate pink flowers of various hues. As I drive down from the mountains the pure beauty of the unfolding shimmering pink fields unfloors me every time.
This year I have been afraid that I would miss their magical moment, but I need not have worried. The almond blossoms seem to be lasting forever. They started to flower down near the temperate coast, gradually coming into maturity up the mountains like a game of dominos as the cold ground thawed. Even in the same field, different trees can flower a week or two apart. I assume this is due to the short lifespan of the almond tree and the varying species planted as individual specimens have died.
On the whole, it is not a very professional crop around here anymore, more a traditional one that is growing out of favour, and with this, many trees are neglected along with their crumbling fincas. When I bought Masia Lavanda I thought that my hundred or so scraggly almond trees with blackened fruit were beyond redemption. However, just in case, I pruned them into nicer forms and most have survived, even if I did prune them at the wrong time of the year in late September, fueled by a glory of passion and local plonk in a large plastic container. They will never be what they should be, but these are my orphans and I will not let them go.
Felix the gardener said not to plant more because they are too labour intensive. I did not know what he meant until my son Harvey and I tried to harvest the almonds ourselves last October. It is not so much the beating them out of the trees, though this is hard work, but it is that afterwards you have to take the husks off, especially if you want to sell them to the cooperative. However it is hardly worthwhile as they only give you a pittance for them and you might as well keep them for home consumption and gifts to friends.
I am still trying to get rid of some from two years back. There are only so many raw almonds one can eat, even factoring in the fact that Harvey has developed an incomprehensible craving for them raw at all times of day and night. I however, prefer them roasted and salted, and that is even more hard work. I shall leave it to the bars where they do it very well.