ALMOND TREES in Bloom!

They are not impressive or particularly beautiful the almond trees that fill the slopes of Kèa, as well as most islands of the Cyclades. But when in bloom, this time of the year, they are such a joy to look at! Their sweet aroma fills our bedroom as one of the old trees—we have more than 30 in the property—is right outside our window. They come in various shades of pink, and some are pure white. I guess the people who planted the trees, many years ago, chose different kinds; some produce small round fruit, others larger, elongated and very hard, difficult to crack. In the old days almonds from the islands were considered particularly delicious and fetched high prices. Now, with plenty of cheaper imports, people don’t even bother to harvest and crack them…

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In a few weeks, when the green almonds reach the size of a small bean, or the nail of my small finger, as my neighbor says, I will collect a few to pickle. It is important to select green almonds that are crunchy but tender –before their shell hardens, and while the nut inside looks like a translucent jelly. To select green almonds for pickling I have to observe carefully their growth, and pick them when they are half an inch long. In just a couple of days they may grow too large and tough, unsuitable for pickling.

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Throughout the Middle East, the green almonds of early spring are nibbled raw, are added to salads or they are cooked together with lamb in a lemony sauce. In Greece they are preserved in heavy syrup, as yet another spoon-sweet, like karydaki (green unripe walnut), or melitzanaki, tiny eggplants, the most exotic of our spoon-sweets. Green almonds are also pickled. Unusually delicious and crunchy pickled green almonds are served as an appetizer, together with the various kinds of olives, and mixed vegetable pickles of cauliflower, peppers and carrots. Their sour taste complements perfectly the sweet and strong anise-flavored ouzo or raki.

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My marinade, is sour-sweet (agro- dolce) inspired from the Ligurian tiny pickled peaches. Peach growers have to alleviate the trees of the abundance of fruits in early spring, so that the right amount of peaches ripen to perfection. The tiny crunchy pickled peaches look and taste very much like tsagala, our green almonds. Both trees belong to the same family anyway…

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RECIPE: Pickled Tsagala (Green Almonds)

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