The Non-irrigated Kea Almonds

The frail-looking trees have adapted perfectly to the dry climate of the islands.

At last people started to package and sell the local, small but delicious almonds! Keans say that almond trees, much like the olive trees, blossom bountifully every second year, and last summer we did have something of a bumper crop.

But until recently very few bothered even for their own use to harvest the fruits of the trees that grow all over the island.



The very labor-intensive work of harvesting, peeling the semi-dried outer green peel, and then cracking the hard shell to get the kernels was not worth the effort; imported California almonds were so cheap…

The frail-looking trees are never irrigated and they have adapted perfectly to the dry climate of the islands. They probably produce fewer, but very tasty almonds if compared with the California trees that consume so much precious water.


During the early 20th century the tiny almonds of the Cyclades were a precious crop, an old man told me. Athenians paid one golden sovereign for one oka of almonds –the old weight measure that equals 1.400 grams (about 3 pounds).

The flourless almond cookies of Kea are traditional festive treats prepared for weddings and christenings and for other joyous family occasions. They are the perfect kosher-for-Passover sweet, as a participant in our classes pointed out, watching my neighbor Zenovia prepare amygdalota.

Most people now use blanched almonds, but I find that, although less attractive, cookies made with whole, un-skinned nuts are equally delicious, not to mention a bit less labor-intensive — if you’re starting from the harvest-field.

All over the Middle East one finds endless variations of these cookies, often heavily scented with citrus blossom, or rose water. I prefer to just use my own lemon liqueur, leaving the flavor and aroma of the local almonds shine; but if you have ordinary almonds I suggest you use a good quality citrus blossom water.

See also the Lemon-scented Almond cookies that are not baked, but cooked on the stove.


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